Dozens of Vietnam veterans were treated to breakfast and lunch at two event in Harker Heights on March 29, as they were properly welcomed home.
A National Vietnam Veterans Commemorative Breakfast was organized and hosted by Chapter 1000 of the Vietnam Veterans of America at the Harker Heights Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3892. Later in the day, the Killeen/Harker Heights Veterans Center hosted a cookout for the veterans at Carl Levin Park.
Last Thursday marked the first official National Vietnam Veterans Day since President Donald Trump signed the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017.
The signing of the legislation coincided with various 50th anniversary observances of the Vietnam War going on across the nation.
The commemorative breakfast recognized local military veterans for their service and featured District 55 state Rep. Hugh D. Shine, of Temple, a retired Army colonel.
Shine’s speech to about 300 veterans and their families was peppered with examples of courage of soldiers who served during the conflict. “During the war, ordinary individuals did extraordinary things,” Shine stated.
The purpose of the commemorative breakfast, according to Shine, “… is to say welcome home to those who served and thank you for your sacrifice to those who didn’t return.
“The day was first celebrated in 1974 ... and the first POWs were released on this date in 1973,” Shine said.
According to Acquanetta Pullins, president of Chapter 1000, Vietnam Veterans of America, “The organization has played an important role in having the Veterans Administration acknowledge service connected disabilities and today is about saying thank you to the veterans.”
John Galyean, 71, of Harker Heights, who served with the 2nd Battalion of the 4th Marines, agreed.
“Vietnam veterans weren’t recognized then. We were spat on when I came home. I had to grow my hair long, so people wouldn’t say anything to me.”
Killeen/Harker Heights Veterans Center Director Kimberly Bayes-Bautista, 58, of Harker Heights, says events like the barbecue at Carl Levin Park are important.
“It’s a chance to say thank you from a grateful nation. Issues of the Vietnam-era still resonate with the veteran community.”
Former infantryman, Phil Sutherland, 71, served with the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines. Sutherland, a 16-year veteran, spoke of his experience during the war, “We were blamed for the politics of the time”, Sutherland stated.
Sutherland elaborated on the psychological toll. “The things hardest for me was the treatment of soldiers upon returning and wondering if we had an impact.” Sutherland went back to Vietnam a couple of years ago and said, for him, that was part of how he healed himself after the war.
Sutherland described what he saw all of these years later. “Vietnam is modern. Looks like we had an impact. I thought they loved us when I returned”, Sutherland concluded. “It really helped me move on.”