It’s been half a century for some Vietnam War-era troops, but age could not weaken the strength of their snappy salutes to the American flag Saturday. Veterans of that war got long overdue recognition and a big “thank you” Saturday in Rome.
More than 150 veterans signed up for the ceremony hosted by the Georgia Department of Veterans Services at Pleasant Valley South Baptist Church.
“It’s important that we recognize these heroes of the Vietnam War who helped pave the way for this current generation,” said Georgia Commissioner of Veterans Services Mike Roby. “It’s important and we need to get this information out, and get this information correct, and do what needs to be done to recognize the soldiers that are serving this country today.”
The program Saturday was part of a statewide effort by the Georgia Department of Veterans Services to recognize and present every veteran with a certificate of honor recognizing their service during the Vietnam War.
John Ware served in Vietnam in 1968 and 1968 with a Special Forces group.
“Primarily we trained South Vietnamese Special Forces guys and we trained the Civilian Irregular Defense Group also. We ran missions on the Ho Chi Minh Trail,” Ware said. “It was interdiction of utilities and supplies coming down from North Vietnam.”
Ware said he was pleased with the ceremony Saturday.
“We came back home and people called us baby killers and spit on us and all that kind of stuff. It was a different time,” Ware said.
Gene Free, was a Navy Corpsman attached to the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment — 1st Marine Division and spent much of his time in the area of Da Nang.
Like Ware, Free said there was no question the Vietnam veterans were treated poorly on their return home.
“When they had to take us out the back gate of Travis Air Force Base to keep us from getting spit on, yeah,” Free said.
Every Georgia veteran with honorable service between June 1, 1954 and May 15, 1975 is eligible to receive the Vietnam certificate,
Not everyone who attended the Saturday afternoon ceremony actually spent time in Vietnam.
Gilbert B. Espy, Silver Creek served with the Air Force in Thailand.
“We did our operations over the Ho Chi Minh Trail,” Espy said. “I was in psychological operations. When I got back we were not welcomed home.”
Bobby Graham was also in the Air Force and served at the Canadian border. He did not have to go to Vietnam during his hitch from 1966 to 1970.
“I was a jet engine mechanic and worked on the tankers that the Air Force used to refill B-52s with,” Graham said.
Since he didn’t go overseas, Graham said he didn’t face some of the issues those who went overseas had to deal with.
“I spent four years in 16 feet of snow a year but I didn’t feel a bit bad about it,” Graham said.
Commissioner Roby presented special lapel pins and certificates to each of the veterans to conclude the ceremony Saturday.