My Turn: A chance to honor Vietnam veterans
A year ago New Hampshire welcomed home its Vietnam veterans.
Held to coincide with the national commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the war, the March 30 ceremony inside a Concord National Guard hangar drew more than 2,000 people. Some traveled from other New England states to hear Gov. Maggie Hassan, the state’s congressional delegation and numerous generals officially recognize a generation of service members treated badly by the nation that sent them to fight.
On April 5 at 2 p.m. at White Mountain Regional High School in Whitefield, the governor and New Hampshire’s elected officials will host another ceremony for Vietnam veterans. With 46,000 Vietnam-era veterans in New Hampshire there were many who could not attend the first one. The state’s intent is to make the event an annual gathering, each time in a different location and each time to say, “Thank you for your service. Welcome home.”
I understand that there is no excuse for nearly a half century of apathy – that no amount of polished speech and glad-handing will completely erase such an embarrassing period in our national history. For some Vietnam veterans Memorial Day, Veterans Day or their military branch’s birthday are sufficient enough reminders of their service. I am also aware of the lingering doubt of what constitutes a Vietnam veteran. Does it also include those men and women who were drafted and served stateside or in a country other than Vietnam? I believe so. Is their service and sacrifice any less meaningful because they were sent to Germany, Italy or Alaska? Certainly not.
Underscoring this national reconciliation is the fact that these very same veterans swore that the next generation of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen returning from war would receive the gratitude they deserved. Spend some time with the Pease Greeters and you will understand just how serious they have been about delivering on that promise. Since 2005, nearly 200,000 U.S. troops have passed through a gauntlet of praise and admiration at the International Tradeport whether they are flying home or overseas. They do not distinguish by operation, country served in or branch of service.
The rest of us can learn by their example.
Join us on April 5.
Let these ceremonies – one is also being planned for June for New Hampshire’s Korean War veterans – serve as rally points to reinvigorate our collective conscience, to remind us of those who sacrificed more than was ever asked of them, to appreciate them and, hopefully, be inspired by them.
(Maj. Gen. William Reddel III is adjutant general of the New Hampshire National Guard.)