VFW honors local veterans on National Vietnam War Veterans Day

It’s difficult for many wartime veterans to talk about their experiences serving their country.

Some watched their brothers in arms die by enemy fire, while others suffered debilitating injuries in combat themselves.

But Vietnam War veterans faced something altogether different when they came back home — a country that not only didn’t support them but made them feel shame for what they had been forced to do.

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Unlike the ticker tape parades and famous streetside kisses that welcomed veterans back after World World II, Vietnam veterans were spit upon and cursed at by their fellow Americans.

More than four decades after their return, Vietnam veterans are finally receiving the appreciation and recognition they deserve from the public.

In 2012, then-President Barack Obama proclaimed March 29 as Vietnam Veterans Day. Five years later, President Donald Trump signed the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017 officially recognizing National Vietnam War Veterans Day.

On March 29, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1925 in Seymour took time to honor and recognize its Vietnam-era veterans with a special event that included a free meal, gifts and cookies and cake made to look like the American flag.

A total of 17 local Vietnam veterans and their families attended and spent time together sharing war stories, laughing and enjoying each other’s company.

Those honored were Louis Jackson, Joe Palmer, Norman Babbs, Terry Skaggs, Russell Box, Tom Cooley, John Schafstall, Ed Hall, Paul Otte, Lonnie Harvey, Larry O’Neal, Toby Milroy, Carl VonDielingen, Daniel Boone, Richard Banks, Rick Roberts and Gary Dyer. Veteran Russ Byrkett could not attend due to his health.

Banks said he, Roberts and Harvey took all of their training together.

“Rick and I flew over to Vietnam,” he said. “We didn’t know where each other was at. Come to find out, Rick was in the same area I was. “

Roberts, who was overcome with emotion talking about his experience in Vietnam, said he owed his life to Banks.

“This guy right here saved my ass,” Roberts said. “Thank you, buddy.”

Also honored and remembered were those who didn’t return. Set up in the middle of the room was a table, an empty chair and a place setting to signify those who died during the Vietnam War.

“On this day, we remember the cost of freedom,” said post Commander Tom Jackson. “We remember the countless lives we lost and honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we as Americans can live in freedom.”

After having a small event last year for Vietnam veterans, Jackson said he knew it wasn’t enough and the post had to do better.

“They are heroes,” he said. “They deserve more.”

This year, he invited Col. Kimberly Martindale, commander of the Indiana National Guard’s 38th Sustainment Brigade and assistant division manager for the Veterans Affairs Office in Indianapolis, to speak.

She served two tours in the Middle East and is a daughter of a World War II veteran and spouse of a Vietnam-era veteran.

“So I know what heroes look like,” she said. “Today, you are here to show appreciation for our brothers and sisters of the Vietnam era who have earned our respect, our gratitude.”

No matter what their role was during the Vietnam War, Martindale said every Vietnam veteran has been affected in some way by that experience.

“I can’t possibly name all of the individual battles, the hills that were taken, the many landing zones that were cleared, the lives lost,” she said. “Many served multiple tours. Some were wounded. Some had the distinct honor of escorting bodies back home, an honor you wouldn’t trade but wished you’d never had to know.”

Martindale said the Vietnam War was unpopular with American citizens, and those serving received little support from back home.

“This was no easy time to be in the military,” she said. “This was not a well-supported period in our history. Every position in the armed forces during this time was a support role to a very unpopular wartime effort.”

American troops comprised of volunteers and drafted personnel were led to fight what turned out to be an unwinnable war, she said.

“This was taking place when America was changing, when Americans in protesting the war confused policy decisions made by the government officials with the troops themselves, forgetting that America’s sons and daughters had no input on the decisions being made around them and for them,” she said.

In some cases, people even blamed the troops for the war itself.

No one is more against a war than the soldiers that fight in them, she said.

“We pray for peace as we prepare for war. When we take an oath to protect and defend, we do this with full commitment,” she said. “We do not have the time or capacity to sit back and decide if the reasons are appropriate or justified. This is not our job.”

When service members are deployed, they have a couple of common goals, Martindale said.

“One is to keep your buddy alive,” she said. “The other is to get back home. For some, going back home (after Vietnam) turned out to be nearly as traumatizing as where they had been.”

Because of those experiences, Martindale said it’s difficult to get Vietnam veterans to respond to requests for including them in events meant to honor them.

Dyer, who serves as the VFW’s chaplain, said he doesn’t hold a grudge against those who disrespected Vietnam veterans and treated them poorly upon their return to the states.

“They didn’t know any better,” he said.

But he does appreciate the post’s efforts to make up for it.

“It’s a lot better welcome than when we came home,” he said of the event.

All U.S. troops were withdrawn from Vietnam on March 30, 1973, under the terms of the Treaty of Paris. By this time, more than 58,000 members of the U.S. Armed Forces had lost their lives, and more than 300,000 had been wounded.

“So ladies and gentlemen, what do you say to a Vietnam veteran?” Martindale asked. “You say thank you and welcome home.”

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Jackson County residents killed during the Vietnam War

Pfc. Kenneth Merle Branaman, Seymour (killed by enemy machine gun fire while engaged in a search-and-destroy operation July 19, 1966, near Cu Chi)

Pfc. Dale Eugene Carmichael, Freetown (died of hostile fire April 25, 1967, in Quang Tri Province)

Spc. 4 Gary Lee Clark, Seymour (died of nonhostile action June 24, 1969, in Kontum Province)

Command Sgt. Major William H. Clevenger, Seymour (died as a result of wounds received June 6, 1969, at base camp in Vietnam when the area came under attack by hostile rocket fire)

Lance Cpl. William Manson “Bill” Daulton, Medora (killed Oct. 24, 1970, as a result of a hostile landmine during maneuvers in Quang Nan Province)

Spc. 4 Martin Douglas Goen, Medora (died April 6, 1971, in Quang Duc Province)

Spc. 4 Thomas Leon Guthrie, Medora (died of hostile fire while on a combat operation in Gia Dinh Province)

Lance Cpl. James Elmore “Pete” Harrell, Cortland (killed in action March 29, 1967, near Da Nang)

Cpl. Homer Howard “Ricky” Haws, Seymour (killed April 15, 1968, in Thua Thien Province)

Lance Cpl. William Dean Laraway, Seymour (killed April 11, 1967, of fragmentation wounds from a grenade while on patrol in Thua Thien Province)

Lance Cpl. Jackie Dean Reynolds, Seymour (died of wounds sustained from small arms fire March 4, 1966, in Pleiku)

Howard Earl Rothring Jr., Crothersville (died while on combat operations April 14, 1969, in Hau Naghia Province)

Spc. 4 Thomas Arthur Stevens Jr., Seymour (died May 28, 1968, from hostile fire in Thua Thien Province)