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    Vietnam vets honored during JRTC, Fort Polk ceremony

    Welcome home

    Photo By Chuck Cannon | A welcome home ceremony honoring Vietnam veterans was held Nov. 8 in the 1st...... read more read more



    Story by Chuck Cannon 

    Fort Johnson Public Affairs Office

    FORT POLK, La. — More than 125 veterans of the Vietnam War gathered in the 1st Battalion, 5th Aviation Regiment Hangar at Polk Army Airfield for an event welcoming them home during a Veterans Day ceremony Nov. 8.
    “Returning Soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who served in Vietnam, on behalf of the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk: Welcome home,” said Brig. Gen. Patrick D. Frank, commander, JRTC and Fort Polk.
    Frank said in spite of the world-class training ongoing at JRTC and Fort Polk for Army units, the most important event on the installation on Nov. 8 was the Welcome Home Ceremony.
    “Today, Fort Polk honors our veterans that served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, Panama, the Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq,” Frank said.
    After welcoming the distinguished visitors, Frank gave a brief history of Veterans Day, highlighting some of those in attendance from what is referred to as the “Greatest Generation” who fought in World War II and Korea. He then turned his attention to the guests of honor — the Vietnam veterans.
    “For our Vietnam veterans here today, you are surrounded in the aviation hangar by a generation of Soldiers that has fought in Iraq and Afghanistan longer than any generation in American history — 17-plus years of combat operations,” Frank said. “When we returned home from our combat tours, we received a hero’s welcome home, with police escorts, bands, flags and our Families.”
    Frank said today’s generation of Soldier lives by the Warrior Creed: “I will always place the mission first, I will never accept defeat, I will never quit, I will never leave a fallen comrade.”
    “We will never leave a comrade on the battlefield, and that is why the Soldiers and their Families that are here today wanted to provide you with a long overdue welcome home, 50 years after your service in Vietnam,” Frank said.
    Frank also thanked the Vietnam veterans’ Families.
    “The veterans reflect the strength of our military services,” he said. “Their Families sitting by their sides are the strength of our nation.”
    Being a military Family during the Vietnam War was exceptionally demanding, Frank said.
    “They were challenged with combat deployments, household moves, adjusting to a new school, and missed birthdays, proms, anniversaries and graduations,” Frank said. “Please join me in a well-deserved round of applause for the Families of our Vietnam veterans that sacrificed so much for our nation.”
    In closing, Frank said the efforts of veterans have protected the citizens of the United States and maintained the country’s freedom for 242 years.
    “As members of the greatest military force in history, American veterans have liberated hundreds of thousands of people from tyranny, across multiple continents and in different generations,” Frank said. “May we never forget how special it is to live in a nation that has been ‘defended’ by these patriotic veterans. JRTC and Fort Polk salutes all of our veterans.”
    Prior to the ceremony, a meet-and-greet was held for the Vietnam veterans and their Families. Current Soldiers shared stories with those who served in previous wars, and provided an official “welcome home” to those who had never received one.
    Jim Anderson, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam, said he appreciated the welcome home — even if it was 50 years late.
    “I think this is great,” Anderson said. “When I came back from Vietnam, I had to change out of my uniform and into civilian clothes before getting on the plane to go home. People were spitting at us, yelling at us. They put us in a special section of the airport for our safety.”
    Jose Blanco also served in Vietnam and faced the same issues as Anderson.
    “I came back through Travis Air Force Base, California, from Vietnam, and they told us it would be best for us if we changed into civilian clothes,” Blanco said. “There were a lot of protesters, so they didn’t want us to wear uniforms.”
    Blanco said he never had a welcome home when he returned from Vietnam.
    “It’s a great honor to attend this one,” he said. “This comes pretty close to making up for (not having a ceremony) back then; it touches my heart. I was able to visit with a lot of others who also served over there.”
    Fort Polk Garrison Commander Col. Jarrett Thomas II said it is important for Fort Polk community members and Soldiers to honor those who served in Vietnam.
    “We didn’t do a good job when our Vietnam veterans returned home from a devastating war,” he said. “We’ve learned a great deal since that time. Soldiers like me, when we come back from Afghanistan or Iraq, we have people standing in the airports at 1 a.m., cheering us on and welcoming home. We learned those hard lessons from back during the Vietnam War days.”
    Unlike today’s volunteer Army, Thomas said many who served in Vietnam did not volunteer — they were drafted.
    “They took the option of going to war to defend their country, and the least we can do is thank them for their service,” Thomas said. “The Vietnam War era was a tough time for our nation, and a tough time for our Soldiers in general. Some of them paid the ultimate sacrifice. For those that made it back, we need to treat them well. We want to thank them while they’re still around. This is a great opportunity to do that. We owe this to them.”
    Jerry Shirley, a military working dog handler who walked point for a year in Vietnam, summed up the feelings of the veterans who attended the event.
    “It was overwhelming,” Shirley said. “I’m touched, and never believed it would be this wonderful. Thank you.”



    Date Taken: 11.09.2018
    Date Posted: 11.09.2018 09:28
    Story ID: 299365
    Location: FORT POLK, LA, US

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