Story by PO2 Jessica Blackwell on 04/01/2019The Vietnam War; a conflict between North and South Vietnam that turned into a full-fledge war from 1955 to 1975. A war highly protested, with U.S. involvement of military troops, in joint effort with South Vietnam military forces to fight the spread of communism, for more than a decade. Americans now have a specific day, March 29th, to recognize Vietnam War veterans for their service and sacrifice as National Vietnam War Veterans Day.
On Friday, March 29, 2019, a ceremony was held onboard Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (JBPHH) to recognize and honor Vietnam War veterans and read the proclamation that President Trump signed into law, the National Vietnam War Veterans Day Act of 2017. This Act further supports President Obama's 2012 proclamation to institute a 13-year program commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.
The Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. John Richardson, charged the Navy to meet the President's direction by honoring and recognizing Vietnam veterans for their service to the nation and the Navy.
The JBPHH ceremony featured Lt. Catherine Crochetiere, master of ceremony, whose parents were Vietnam War refugees.
"We honor this conflict. I'm standing here today only because of the honorable service of our Vietnam veterans", said Crochetiere. "It is a privilege to be able to honor these heroes."
Ceremony guest of honor, Navy Vietnam War veteran Tim Guard, a former commissioned naval officer who commanded a swift boat during the war, shared some of his memories and thoughts from his service.
"Many of us who went over and came back, [we came back] to the disappointment of seeing a country so torn apart by the divisiveness of attitudes about the war, attitudes about our veterans, and questions like, Why did you go?'," said Guard.
When asked what it means to set this day apart and observe it aboard JBPHH in recognition of the proclamation the president signed, Capt. Jeff Bernard, commander of JBPHH replied, "It's a great opportunity for people to meet someone like Tim Guard, a Vietnam veteran who has not only served his country with pride and honor, but who has dedicated a significant portion of his life to helping others who are serving or who have served."
The dedication of March 29th is a welcomed acknowledgment of those who fought in the Vietnam War.
"There are so many examples of Vietnam veterans being forgotten or lost in the midst," said Bernard. "This is a great opportunity for us to recognize that service."
Guard, who received combat citations that included a Bronze Star and Republic of Vietnam Legion of Merit award, further commented on what the day means to him.
"I think the recognition for thousands upon thousands of Vietnam War veterans, and there are still a lot of them, number one, is overdue," said Guard. "Number two, it is heartwarming, and I have great faith in this president, that he stands not only with the current application of the military, but that he, after all these years, affords the veterans the recognition they so richly deserve."
In Trump's proclamation he implores America, "I call upon all Americans to offer each of our Vietnam veterans and their families a thank you on behalf of the nation, both privately and during public ceremonies and programs across the country."
In addition to the JBPHH ceremony, the Navy Exchange (NEX) Pearl Harbor store, partnering with the Pearl Harbor Commissary, also held an event honoring Vietnam veterans and presented them with an official lapel pin recognizing their courageous commitment and sacrifice to their country.
"This is not just a Pearl Harbor specific event. The company is putting on events like this throughout the world," said Tom Jacobson, District Vice President of the Navy Exchange Stores in Hawaii. "At the end of the day it is about our customers and our customer base, and our Vietnam veterans are a key part of that customer base," continued Jacobson. This thank you is long overdue and they need to hear it more times than not. They've waited a long time for it and they deserve it."
Many veterans were in attendance during the two-hour long event. Inocentes Montecillo, an Army Vietnam War veteran who was drafted in 1967, was one of the event's attendees.
"It took 50 years but it's better late than never," said Montecillo. "There are a lot of people who have passed away, and died in combat. I'm really glad they looked at this."
Remembering his service, Montecillo shared a memory.
"I was 11 Bravo, that's infantry. When you have to put people in a body bag, it's no fun. I was young, but I cannot forget that because those were my comrades and it's hard, but we had to do it."
More than 58,000 names are memorialized at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency reports a total of 2,646 Americans missing during the Vietnam War with 1,246 still missing from Vietnam alone.
March 29th, National Vietnam War Veterans Day, has joined six other national observances honoring the military.