EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU)- Thousands of our veterans are honored during the first celebration of our country's newly established National Vietnam War Veterans Day.
“Welcome home,” said Daniel Zimmerman, the Department of Veterans Affairs secretary. “Thank you for all the Vietnam vets for their service courage and sacrifice, we will forever be in your debt.”
More than 165,000 Wisconsinites served in the Vietnam War, with 1,239 paying the ultimate sacrifice.
“As a veteran it means to me that I served my country; keep it free from foreign and domestic; I raise my right hand and as they say the enlistment, there’s no end to it, no date,” said local veteran from Altoona, Rory Schutte.
But March 29th is a date that Vietnam War veterans will remember forever. Forty-five years ago it marked the day the last American troops left Vietnam soil. Wednesday, Governor Walker stopped in Eau Claire at VFW Post 305 to honor our veterans, proclaiming the day as not only a nationally recognized event, but a statewide one too.
“As part of a national commemoration to thank all of our Vietnam veterans, as part of a multi-year process to make sure veterans recognize our support and our commitment to thanking them for their service and making sure they get the assistance they need going forward,” Walker said.
But why recognize a separate veterans day?
“Many of us returned broken,” said Ray Boland, the WDVA Secretary Colonel. “Physically, mentally, emotionally, even spiritually. We realized in the years that followed it takes a long time for the wounds of a war to heal.”
Major General Don Dunbar said it’s a generation that's worthy of the recognition.
“Realize that from 1955 to ’75, some 9 million men and women wore the uniform during that time,” Dunbar said. “More than 3 million served on that piece of land and more than 58,000 paid the ultimate price. When you put that in context and realize these soldiers, these sailors, airmen, marines, coast guard, served not only in a time of poor, but served in a time of great social unrest at home.”
While appreciation for veterans' service has changed and grown over the years, speakers said these veterans will never be forgotten.
“We're part of something bigger than Vietnam,” Boland said. “We're a part of a legacy that will live on forever and that is why we should each be proud of the part we have played in all of that.”
Wisconsin has the largest group of living veterans with about 132,000. Speakers added any veteran looking for help and services should not be afraid to reach out.