The common greeting of “welcome home” between Vietnam War veterans can be confusing to the uninitiated.
But for those who served, like former Pfc. Mychael James, 68, the greeting is a badge of honor between soldiers who shared the trials and victories of war at home and abroad.
“It’s how we say to one another even if we’re not family, we’re family,” he said.
Around 300 veterans, families, military officials and supporters gathered at the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery in Killeen Saturday to dedicate the Vietnam Veterans Memorial — the first of its kind at a state veterans cemetery in Texas.
The black granite memorial was created by sculptor Troy Kelley, of Salado, and took two years to plan.
Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1000 facilitated the fundraising and donations of time, material, money and talent.
The dedication ceremony highlighted the sacrifices of the young men and women who served in the Vietnam War, a 10-year ground war that cost the lives of approximately 50,000 American soldiers and more than a million Vietnamese troops and civilians.
Upon the conflict’s end by American withdrawal from Saigon in 1975, U.S. troops experienced a wave of anti-war fervor and hatred after landing on their home shores.
Eric Brown, the deputy director of Texas state veterans cemeteries, said the treatment U.S. troops received after their fighting for their country was inexcusable.
“As a veteran, I can not imagine the feeling of returning home to an unsupportive climate and hostilities from those you raise your right hand to defend,” he said. “Yet I take solace in knowing we have evolved as a nation. Unfortunately this evolution came at a terrible price.”
Retired Lt. Gen. Paul E. Funk Sr., the keynote speaker at the event and a troop commander in 1st Cavalry Division’s 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment in Vietnam, said the soldiers in Vietnam fought a “young man’s war” that brought them face to face with the enemy — forever changing the men who came back.
“The average combat unit served 240 days in combat situations in Vietnam — in World War II it was 40 days,” Funk said. “A lot of those young people who went there saw a lot of the face of the enemy.”
Funk said the last memory of the war for those who fought in it were the “no man left behind” mentality of the young soldiers.
“The people that fought there, our kids, never backed down and never left anyone behind,” Funk said. “Our guys all knew that we were coming for them, and if you think that doesn’t carry through to this day, you’re wrong.”
Brown said the Veterans Land Board is planning on installing three future Vietnam memorials at state cemeteries in Abilene, Mission and Corpus Christi.
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