Vietnam Veterans honored

March 30, 2019

Vietnam War veterans were honored for their service and sacrifice for their country during an event Friday afternoon hosted by the American Legion Post in Ludington.

The event, at Edwin H. Ewing American Legion Post 76, commemorated the 46th anniversary of when the last U.S. troops withdrew from their deployment in South Vietnam, on March 29, 1973, signaling the end of American involvement in a conflict that raged for nearly two decades.

Nearly 2.6 million U.S. troops served in South Vietnam, and more than 3.4 million were deployed in Southeast Asia during the war, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. A total of 58,220 U.S. service members died in the Vietnam War. At the end of the conflict, 2,646 were listed as prisoners of war or missing in action — as of Jan. 15, 2018, 1,601 soldiers still remain unaccounted for.

The war was politically divisive in the United States. When Vietnam veterans returned home, many of them felt unwelcome and dishonored by their countrymen.

Starting in 2017, the date March 29 of each year has been recognized as National Vietnam War Veterans Day to honor the service members. On Friday, American Legion posts, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and other organizations throughout the United States held events to pay tribute to the veterans.

At the Ludington post, about 35 veterans — 15 of them Vietnam veterans — and their spouses joined together for a patriotic program, beginning with the National Anthem, a prayer, food and drinks.

“We appreciate the event to honor veterans and the recognition they deserve,” said Debi Lowe, chaplain of the post’s auxiliary, who’s husband served in Vietnam.

During the meal, some veterans looked through books and photographs of the Vietnam War, and they shared stories of their time in the service and the soldiers they remember.

After the refreshments, several veterans and family members gave speeches commemorating the event and their gratefulness for the sacrifices of their fellow service members.

“Thank you is not enough,” said Karen Rogner, auxiliary post president.

Ten-year-old Sawyer Hendrickson presented a speech thanking the veterans for their service, both their time in the military and their service for the community since. Her brother has been serving with the Marines for three years, she said, and she is on a mission to honor veterans and current service members. Hendrickson also gave the veterans rocks painted with the word “hero.”

Some veterans face debilitating health issues because of their military service.

Veteran John Fletcher served during the Vietnam War era. He was deployed for 13 months in Korea’s DMZ (demilitarized zone), and he was exposed to Agent Orange, he said.

“Agent Orange ruined my kidneys,” Fletcher said, adding that he has spent a lot of time in hospitals and nursing homes. He uses a wheelchair now.

Ron Martin, who is a Vietnam veteran who now helps with the Michigan Veterans Trust Fund, talked about the benefits veterans have earned and urged them to take full advantage of those benefits because they deserve them. Not only is there medical assistance, but also food, electrical and other benefits, such as counseling for post traumatic stress disorder.