HARKER HEIGHTS — At least 27 Vietnam-era veterans and three widows of Vietnam-era veterans were honored by the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 29 during their meeting in Harker Heights on Saturday.
Commander of Chapter 29 James Dukes said it was to give thanks and to honor their service, valor and sacrifice when the country called upon them and because that recognition didn’t come when the veterans returned home. He read the citation on the certificates prior to the veterans receiving them.
“You answered our nations call and proudly served in the footsteps of previous generations of American service men and women,” Dukes said. “It is an honor to present you this certificate and commemorative pin in recognition of your patriotism and service.”
Veterans received a certificate signed by the Secretary of Defense and a commemorative lapel pin and a heartfelt, “Welcome home, thank you for your service.”
“The purpose was to recognize Vietnam veterans because they didn’t get a full recognition when they came back from Vietnam; so now we wanted to recognize them and welcome them back home,” Duke said.
Duke said the organization asks for Vietnam-era veterans to identify themselves during regular meetings.
“As long as they were in the military before May of 1975 they qualify for (recognition),” Duke said. “As history has it, all of the wars we’ve had, the Vietnam veterans were the only ones that really did not get recognition.”
Duke said this was the first official Vietnam veteran’s recognition ceremony at the chapter, but plans on additional ones in the future.
“We intend on continuing this about every two months; if we get some names we will recognize them, and now that we know we will be including spouses of veterans that have passed, we will include them as well,” Duke said.
William Gabriel served from January 1972 until he retired in June 1992. He and his wife are both disabled veterans and said this was the first time he has ever received any recognition for being a veteran during that period.
Gabriel said receiving the recognition was surprising because he had served during the Vietnam era but not in the war itself.
“At the time we went in 1972 we didn’t have a choice to where we were going, and I got orders for Germany,” Gabriel said. “I didn’t go to Vietnam, but we were all in support of the mission there.”
Gabriel said he believes the recognition of Vietnam veterans has taken so long because of the negative attitude towards the war itself, the way it ended and because of politics.
“A lot of the Vietnam-era veterans kept to themselves when they got out,” Gabriel said. “Using myself as an example, I returned from Germany under the hometown recruiting program and we went out to recruit and my car got destroyed. It was not a good time.”
Polly Hammarlund attended the meeting to help a friend whose veteran husband recently passed away. Hammarlund was one of three Vietnam-era veteran widows who were recognized and received a commemorative pin during the event.
“I had never seen it done before and they’re just starting to recognize all sorts of different groups amongst Vietnam veterans, and I think that’s just great,” Hammarlund said.
Hammarlund’s husband was a Vietnam veteran who passed away nearly two years ago. She said she informed the Disabled Veterans Association that her husband had not been killed in the Vietnam War.
“I told them he didn’t die there, and they said, ‘That’s fine, you’re still a Vietnam veteran widow,’” Hammarlund said. “That is very special that they would honor the Vietnam veterans that way.
Hammarlund said she has seen numerous television programs devoted to honoring Iraqi veterans and their families in recent years.
“I think that’s wonderful, but when are they going to do that for us because they never did anything for the Vietnam veterans,” Hammarlund said.
Pat Christ, a former city council member, retired military intelligence officer and Vietnam veteran, and current chairman of the Area Veterans Advisory Committee’s Vietnam Commemorative Committee, said he attends as many commemoration meetings as he can.
“Our goal has been to recognize every Vietnam veteran within the community,” Christ said.
Christ also said it was important to recognize Vietnam veterans because of the reception returning veterans received.
“Many Vietnam veterans came back and were left with a pretty sour taste,” Christ said. “It was not the most pleasant war in the world, if any war could ever be pleasant, so they had a bad experience over there and then they come home and weren’t treated very well.”
Christ said if a veteran served even a single day on active duty between 1955 to 1975 they are considered a Vietnam-era veteran and they are being commemorated also.