ALAMOSA — Conejos County is prominent on the Vietnam Memorial Wall, veterans, friends and family were advised Saturday at a United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration ceremony.
More than 100 veterans, their spouses and family were honored and thanked Saturday afternoon at Dickey Springer American Legion Post in Alamosa as Commander Donna Gates, with the assistance of Colorado State Senator Larry Crowder, himself a Vietnam veteran, presented commemorative lapel pins to many and certificates recognizing their service to spouses and family members.
Those listed on the wall include U.S. Army Pfc. Gilbert Michael Chavez, Romeo, USA First Lt. Dudley Davis, Antonito, USA Staff Sgt. John Calvin Davis, Antonito, USMC Gunnery Sgt. Jesus Maria Garcia, Conejos, USA Cpl. Manuelito Leopold Herrera, Manassa, USA Pfc. Stephen Salas, Antonito, USA Sgt. Jimmy Wayne Westbrook, Sanford.
More than 58,000 died in service to our nation. Now and forever, their names are etched into black granite, a lasting memorial to those who bore conflict’s greatest cost.
Veterans returning home from Vietnam received a bitter welcome, borne of news reports, public sentiment and exhaustion. It was a long war.
Eleven years of combat left their imprint on a generation. Thousands returned home bearing shrapnel and scars; others suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the affects of Agent Orange and of memories that would never fade.
There are still 1,606 still listed as missing in action and possibly held prisoners of war, including Charles Richard Brownlee of Alamosa, shot down on Dec. 24, 1968. The Paris Peace Accords were signed on Jan. 27, 1973 and 591 prisoners of war were released. Roughly 2,500 were still missing and their numbers have diminished through joint recovery efforts. On March 29, 1973, the last U.S. troops left Vietnam.
On Jan. 12, 1962, U.S. Army pilots airlifted more than 1,000 South Vietnamese service members over jungle and underbrush to capture a National Liberation Front stronghold near Saigon. Operation Chopper marked America’s first combat mission against the Viet Cong and the beginning of one of our longest and most challenging wars.
A presidential proclamation read by Crowder applauds the men and women in uniform: “Through more than a decade of conflict that tested the fabric of our Nation, the service of our men and women in uniform stood true. Fifty years after that fateful mission, we honor the more than three million Americans who served, we pay tribute to those we have laid to rest and we reaffirm our dedication to showing a generation of veterans the respect and support of a grateful Nation.”
“The Vietnam War is a story of service members of different backgrounds, colors and creeds who came together to complete a daunting mission. It is a story of Americans from every corner of our Nation who left the warmth of family to serve the country they loved. It is a story of patriots who braved the line of fire, who cast themselves into harm’s way to save a friend, who fought hour after hour, day after day to preserve the liberties we hold dear. From Ia Drang to Hue, they won every major battle of the war and upheld the highest traditions of our Armed Forces.”
The proclamation notes this. “Yet, in one of the war’s most profound tragedies, many of these men and women came home to be shunned or neglected -- to face treatment unbefitting their courage and a welcome unworthy of their example. We must never let this happen again. Today, we reaffirm one of our most fundamental obligations: to show all who have worn the uniform of the United States the respect and dignity they deserve, and to honor their sacrifice by serving them as well as they served us.”
“More than half a century after those helicopters swept off the ground and into the annals of history, we pay tribute to the fallen, the missing, the wounded, the millions who served and the millions more who awaited their return. Our Nation stands stronger for their service, and on Vietnam Veterans Day, we honor their proud legacy with our deepest gratitude.”
The lapel pins awarded each veteran present and received by friends and relatives on their behalf were created to recognize, thank and honor United States Military veterans who served during the Vietnam war. Those who served at any time between Nov. 1, 1955 and May 15, 1975, regardless of the location were eligible to receive pins.
Presented in a dignified manner to each Vietnam veteran during public events in their communities, the pins are a memento of honor and thanks from the United States.
Speaking during the ceremony were Lt. Col. Patty Robertson (USAF Ret.) and her husband, Sr. Master Sgt. Randy Robertson (USAF Ret.).
Lt. Col. Robertsons said veterans like herself and her husband received a “hero’s welcome” when they returned home. She credited the Vietnam veterans and their awareness efforts at making this possible.
They conducted a solemn ceremony at the POW-MIA table, where a lone chair sat unoccupied during the event. Each item on the table signified an element of life for the prisoners of war, including salt and the bitterness of lemon.
A toast with small cups of water ended the presentation as the Robertsons reminded those present that wine was inappropriate and clean.