Vietnam-era veterans were welcomed home on Wednesday.
The Hubbard County Veteran Services Office (VSO), All Veterans Memorial, Park Rapids American Legion and Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Chapter 38 teamed up for a Sept. 11 tribute to vets and their family members.
“Congress has outlined five objectives for the U.S. Vietnam War Commission, with the primary objective to thank our Vietnam-era veterans and their families. Our nation is grateful for your sacrifices and your service,” said County Assistant VSO Darius Simon in his opening remarks.
The event honored prisoners of war, family members of unaccounted or deceased Vietnam vets, and living wartime vets “who never got the welcome they deserved when they came home.”
Simon, an Army veteran who served in Iraq from 2003 to 2005, said it is a privilege to serve Hubbard County veterans.
“You ladies and gentleman paved the road for my generation. The sacrifices you made on the battlefield and off the battlefield, I can never thank you enough,” he said. “We came home to warm welcomes because of the sacrifices you guys made.”
Simon calculated that 141 veterans attended, each receiving a certificate and commemorative Vietnam Veteran lapel pin. They traveled from as far away as Bemidji and Frazee.
Main Street Meats donated the food for the free lunch. R & R Rental contributed the tents, tables and chairs.
“This is a really generous community,” said Park Rapids DAV Commander Jeff Siebert.
“They come together for their veterans. It’s amazing,” agreed Simon.
Guest speaker Roger Boyce said he didn’t hear the words “welcome home” until 17 years after the Vietnam War. “It turned out that it was from a Cheyene Dog soldier and one of my own Vietnam Black Horse brothers,” he recalled.
“I know many men and women that could have endured the Vietnam War, but I don’t know of another group of young Americans that could’ve stood the test of the years after Vietnam with more grace,” Boyce said. “With God’s favor in Vietnam, we did what it took. It was America, during the Vietnam War, that lacked the grace to hear about Vietnam and the jungle war zone, to even hear it secondhand.”
Referencing Tim O’brien’s book, Boyce said, “It’s about the things we all carried, and to this day still do. It’s the awful burden of knowing that the country that sent us to the jungles of Vietnam didn’t believe in or support what we had to do in Vietnam just to stay alive, let alone to win a war.”
Vets came home to “protestors who were pale shadows and poor substitutes for our loyal brothers we left behind. Like all wars, Vietnam and the bitter taste of battle created a pain undiminished by time,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard to find the right words, even when they are written on your heart. Today, these words come easy to me because you are my brothers and we are all connected by a war.”
Today, Boyce said, Vietnam veterans are held in high regard by almost all Americans.
“Vietnam veterans paid a very high price so that, today, our warriors can come home from battle heroes,” he said. “This nation has learned from its Vietnam veterans that we must treat our warriors with respect.”
“We shared a personal and powerful experience together in Vietnam,” Boyce concluded, “and we are forever brothers.