Nearly 200 Vietnam War veterans and their families packed into the Salem VA Medical Center auditorium Monday evening for a lapel pinning ceremony in their honor and in recognition of the war’s 50th anniversary.
The war, which was perhaps the most controversial in U.S. history, led many veterans to feel neglected and disrespected once they returned home. Fifty years later, the gathering took steps to change that perspective, and let veterans know just how much they are appreciated.
The ceremony was a joint effort between the Salem VA Medical Center and the Veterans Benefits Administration. Steve Bozeman, a United States Marine Corps Vietnam veteran, was the guest speaker. Bozeman received two Purple Hearts for combat wounds, as well as 18 Air Medals, and a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal for heroism.
“Like many of you, my dad served in WWII, and we’ve kind of fallen in their footsteps,” Bozeman said. “We felt it was our duty when our time came to serve, and Vietnam was our calling. We went. We went proudly and honorably with no regrets.”
Col. John Miller, the president of the Stonewall Jackson Chapter Association of the U.S. Army, presented a lapel pin to each veteran in attendance. U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte also attended the event, and shook hands with each veteran to thank them for their service. The veterans who received the honor served in active duty anytime between Nov. 1, 1955 and May 15, 1975. They are part of the 7.2 million surviving Vietnam veterans in the U.S. today.
“We’re overwhelmed with the attendance that we have tonight,” Miller said. “The U.S. government has instituted a national effort to do what should have been done 50 years ago– to thank and honor Vietnam veterans and their families for their service and their sacrifice– and to properly welcome them home.”
The lapel pins each veteran received feature an eagle head, stripes and six stars. The pins read, “A grateful nation thanks and honors you.”
The ceremony’s conclusion speech was by Keith Wilson, the director of the Roanoke Regional Office. Wilson, whose son served in Afghanistan, said he is thankful for the role Vietnam veterans played in ensuring that veterans today are given the respect they deserve.
“This is obviously a long time coming,” Wilson said. “The government and the people of this country owe a debt of gratitude to you that can never be repaid.”
“One personal note, I think all of you should be proud that you have changed society in a lot of ways,” he added. “The manner in which the people and the government of the United States treated Vietnam veterans is not same as we treat our separating service members now. My son, a combat veteran from Afghanistan came back, and had a much different experience than you, and I believe that is because of the work all of you have done.”
Music was provided by the 29th Division Band, Army National Guard Brass Ensemble, followed by refreshments.