NORFOLK — For the United States, the Vietnam Era is considered to have encompassed Feb. 28, 1961 to May 7, 1975. But, even after the decades that have since passed, Vietnam veterans have not been forgotten.
Such was the case Sunday afternoon in the town of Norfolk, where the American Legion Post 925 Auxiliary hosted a “welcome home” celebration.
Twenty-seven veterans were recognized during the ceremony, as were three individuals who didn’t make it home — Robert B. Markum, Bernard G. Purvis Jr. and Roger H. Coye. Their names are listed on the Donald W. Gately Veterans Memorial at the post, along with the names of four individuals who died in World War I, 14 individuals who died in World War II and three people who died in the Korean War.
The inscription on the memorial reads, “This memorial is dedicated to all Norfolk veterans who carried the torch of freedom and especially those who made the supreme sacrifice in order that we remain free.”
Also recognized by Auxiliary Chaplain Di Deon were three Vietnam-era veterans who had recently died.
“We’re welcoming home Vietnam veterans. It’s just something that should have been done a long time ago. They should have welcomed these veterans home. They didn’t even want to wear the uniform because of the controversy at the time, so we took it upon ourselves to give them a welcome home,” Ms. Deon said.
Speaking to the veterans in attendance, she said it was a “travesty” that veterans didn’t want to wear their uniforms when they returned home to the United States because of the conflict over the war.
“Your nation failed you. But we here at the Norfolk American Legion Auxiliary are honored to welcome you home today,” she said.
Thomas Morrison, president of the post’s American Legion Riders, was the guest speaker for the ceremony. An Army veteran himself, he said he was intimidated when he was asked to speak at the event.
“I’m not a Vietnam veteran, and I cannot pretend to understand what you went through. But as I reflected on it, it became clear to me that my generation and the generation after me are the ones who should be thanking you for the changes that been brought about,” he said.
Mr. Morrison said he was born during the middle of the Vietnam War.
“I was of a generation whose parents and grandparents served in Vietnam. They didn’t talk about it. I remember hearing a lot of stories of their parents and grandparents who served in World War I and World War II. I remember all the parades and all the honors that were given to them. I remember having uncles who served in Korea. Nobody talks about that,” he said.
Mr. Morrison said he remembers watching television shows as a kid, “where they portrayed Vietnam veterans as deranged, crazy, dangerous. I knew that wasn’t true.”
He joined the Army when he turned 18 and said he and many of his fellow soldiers looked up to Vietnam veterans and wanted to be like them.
“I remember as a 19-year-old private first class being excited to get a pair of jungle boots that we could actually wear with our uniforms until about 1990,” he said.
Mr. Morrison said Vietnam veterans brought about positive change for future members of the military.
“We got a lot more freedoms, a lot more choice because the government knew they couldn’t use a draft anymore,” he said.
He said, thanks to the service of Vietnam veterans, there’s now more of a focus on transitioning from the military to civilian life, as well as an improved GI Bill to continue further education and vastly improved medical care.
“Of course, as you know, we’re still waiting for recognition for things such as Agent Orange,” Mr. Morrison said.”Luckily, our representatives and service organizations are much more aware of those needs because of you.”
There’s now a deeper concerns for troop morale, he said, “and American people have learned that they can support our troops and veterans, even if they may not agree with the cause that they’re fighting for.”
Mr. Morrison said he visited South Vietnam in 2001 and saw the positive impact Vietnam veterans had made on the country.
“I was surprised to see how well they had grown,” he said. “I was also very impressed with how many older Vietnamese people came up to me, asked if I was an American and thanked me.”
Now it was time for the Norfolk community to offer its thanks.
“On behalf of our community, I want to thank you for your service and your impact on society,” he said. “Welcome home.”