WASHINGTON – The afternoon in the Pentagon auditorium on Aug. 28 was a time for reflection on a war that spanned 10 years and cost the country the lives of more than 58,000 young men and women. It was also an occasion to honor and thank nine Vietnam War veterans who’d served a total of 14 tours in-country and 225 years in uniform.
Kicking off the Pentagon's first event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the conflict, Army Lt. Gen. Raymond V. Mason, deputy chief of staff for logistics, opened the ceremony recalling personal memories as well as his broader experiences as a young American citizen.
"I was a young Army brat and it was difficult for me to watch my dad come back after his third tour in Vietnam and not get treated appropriately, at least in my mind," Mason said. "I was just a pretty young guy at that time, but I could feel that it wasn't right. It struck me, and I knew if I ever had the opportunity to make that right I would do the best I could.
"Today, we are recognizing nine of our patriots and their families who stood up to the test of their generation and their decade," he continued. "I think it's well overdue. Nothing is more important than pausing and reflecting on the sacrifices of what these great men and women did and those who gave their last full measure."
On March 8, 1965, America's ground war in Vietnam began when 3,500 Marines were deployed with the American public's support. By Christmas, nearly 200,000 soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors were in the country. At war's end on April 30, 1975, nearly 3 million Americans had been on the ground, in the air and on rivers of Vietnam. More than 58,000 Americans lost their lives.
While the official 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War will be in 2015, the president and Congress requested the secretary of Defense to begin planning the Vietnam War commemoration in 2007.
The goal is to get more than 10,000 corporations, civic groups as well as government and community organizations to join as partners and help sponsor hometown events to honor Vietnam veterans, their families and those who were prisoners of war and missing in action.
To date, 4,921 commemorative partners have signed on, including Army logistics, or G-4, which became the first.
Following Mason's remarks, Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. John F. Campbell thanked him and his team for leading the way to celebrate the contributions of Vietnam veterans.
The son of an Air Force senior master sergeant, Campbell told of his years growing up on military bases around the world before attending West Point, and then recalled his first interaction with Vietnam veterans while a lieutenant in Germany.
"Both the battalion commanders were Vietnam veterans ... all the platoon sergeants, all the first sergeants, all the company commanders were Vietnam veterans," Campbell said. The vets, he said, instilled in him their hard-fought lessons-learned from Vietnam and wanted to make sure the young lieutenants and soldiers wouldn't make the same mistakes they had.
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Claude "Mick" Kicklighter serves as director of the U.S. Vietnam War Commemoration. During the Pentagon event he previewed the timeline of plans for honoring Vietnam veterans across the country over the next few years.
"Veterans of Valor," a 30-minute documentary with the nine honorees recalling humorous and somber anecdotes of their war experiences and interspersed with still photographs of themselves in Vietnam was also premiered.