By Mrs. Martha Yoshida (Leonard Wood)September 10, 2015
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (Sept. 10, 2015) -- In 1965, Wolfman Jack howled and growled on the air waves, introducing R&B and soul greats like the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, and British invasion bands, including the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Sonny and Cher debuted on American Bandstand that year.
The average cost of a new vehicle was less than $3,000.
Americans went to public pay phones and made local calls for a dime.
In March of that same year, President Lyndon Johnson, with support from the American public, sent U.S. combat forces into battle to support South Vietnam, in what would be a long, costly armed conflict against the communist regime of North Vietnam and its southern allies, known as the Viet Cong.
Now, 50 years following U.S. entry into the war in Southeast Asia, Fort Leonard Wood joined communities across the country by hosting a commemoration ceremony Saturday to recognize the service and sacrifice of America's men and women who served during Vietnam.
The tribute, which coincided with the post's annual Retiree Appreciation Days, included the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall, sponsored in partnership with local community organizations.
The names of 1,141 Missourians, who paid the ultimate sacrifice while fighting the war in Vietnam, were read by the Waynesville High School JROTC, as service members from Fort Leonard Wood rang a passing bell in their honor.
Maj. Gen. Kent Savre, Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and Fort Leonard Wood commanding general, spoke during the ceremony.
"It's really important that we take the time to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War," Savre said. "Special thanks to the military retirees who made the effort to travel to Fort Leonard Wood this weekend and honor us with your presence."
"Back on March 8, 1965, America's ground war in Vietnam began with 3,500 Marines deployed with American support," he said. "By Christmas, nearly 200,000 Soldiers, Marines, Airmen and Sailors were in country. Today, 50 years later it's certainly appropriate to commemorate the Vietnam War and to thank those who answered the call."
"I have had the opportunity to visit the National Memorial and Vietnam Wall on several occasions, but bringing the wall here to central Missouri, especially on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War, ensures that we will never forget," he added. "It helps us honor the more than 58,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen, who gave all in service to our nation."
"To bring that ultimate sacrifice just a little bit closer to home for us, over the past few hours, Waynesville High School JROTC cadets read aloud the names of the 1,141 Missourians who were killed during the Vietnam War," Savre said. "The brave men and women who fought in the Vietnam War, many from right here in Missouri, lay the foundation for our military today -- really inspiring us with their courage; and providing an example of commitment, competence and character."
"We stand on your shoulders and the shoulders of all of our veterans from World War II and Korea, through Vietnam and beyond," he said.
The post's commanding general introduced Missouri's only living Medal of Honor recipient, retired Col. Donald "Doc" Ballard, a Kansas City native, who earned the Medal of Honor for heroic actions on May 16, 1968, while serving as a U.S. Navy corpsman with the U.S. Marine Corps.
Ballard thanked those who serve in the military today.
"We would not have a free country if it wasn't for you," he said.
"The returning troops today are treated a lot differently than when we came home," he added. "It was a tragic time in the country. The history in the United States at that time was anti-military. So we had to overcome that."
"We preached the fact that nobody likes war, but we better take care of the warriors. That was our message," Ballard said. "I thank all of the Vietnam (veterans) for stepping up and supporting that attitude and making a difference."
Ballard spoke about the Medal of Honor he wears.
"This is our award given to us for our dignity and our service, and every time I put it on, I reflect back on people, they were Marines at the time, who gave their lives, so that I could live," Ballard explained. "I was wounded eight times and the Marines kept me alive. I don't know how, but they kept me alive."
"There is no greater love than combat buddies," Ballard said. "We lived together, fought together, died together, cried together and did everything we could to save each other to get them home."
Ballard said there is nothing happy about an anniversary of war.
"The only thing happy about it is that we are not there and we are survivors," he said.
"I've got friends on that wall," Ballard said. "I can't bear myself to go up and look at that wall. So, I don't. But in my own heart and mind, I appreciate what they've done for me," he said.
Ballard concluded in saying America is nothing without the military.
"I support the wall wherever it goes and it's for a different reason -- and that is to educate you, the new military leaders," he said. "This is a Family-owned business. Pass it on."