By Julia LeDoux, Pentagram Staff WriterNovember 15, 2013
JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. - They fought in the rice paddies and jungles of Southeast Asia five decades ago, and on Veterans Day, the commissary on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall welcomed home Vietnam veterans by unveiling the Department of Defense's commemorative flag marking the 50th anniversary of the war.
"It's amazing, but it's been 44 years since I left for Vietnam," said retired Col. Frank Cohn, who deployed for Vietnam on Feb. 17, 1969 and returned home Feb. 17, 1970. "Some things you can't forget and some things you can't remember at all. "
The 2008 National Defense Authorization Act authorized the Secretary of Defense to conduct a program to mark the 50th anniversary of the war to thank and honor its veterans and their families for their service and sacrifice to the nation.
Retired Maj. Gen. Jim Jackson, a committee representative for the flag and unveiling ceremony, said that President Barack Obama kicked off the commemorative period at The Wall on Memorial Day 2012.
"This is a commemorative program," he said. "We're reaching out across the country to get people to help us to reach out to the veterans in their area."
Jackson said the program has a very simple message exemplified by the words that can be found at the bottom of the commemorative flag: A grateful national thanks and honors you.
"It's time for our country to come together and basically give the Vietnam veterans the respect and honor they deserve," he said. "Most of you probably came home to a different welcome than what we're currently providing to our veterans who are coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq. It's time to change that and basically say thanks for all you have done."
Retired Army Col. Ralph Sievers said his wife was an unsung hero of the war, who was left at home with four children ranging in age from 1, 9, 10, and 11 "and another on the way," when he deployed to Vietnam.
"It was not just our serving in Vietnam that was a disruption to our lives," he said.
Vietnam veterans retired Cols. Spruell Gregory and Tommy Osborne also recounted their wartime experiences. The event was emceed by assistant commissary officer Cathy Riddick and commissary secretary Gilda Davis offered the prayer that opened the ceremony.
To learn more about the Department of Defense's 50th anniversary commemoration of the Vietnam War, visit www.vietnamwar50th.org.