By Linda Lambiotte, ASC Public AffairsApril 4, 2018
ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- More than 100 people including local residents, area politicians, and military leaders gathered at the Rock Island National Cemetery March 29 here to honor those who served during the Vietnam War.
National Vietnam War Veterans Day was established March 28, 2017, when President Donald Trump signed the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act. The day is now recognized annually on March 29.
The event was also held to recognize the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. The 50th anniversary has been recognized annually since 2015, a tradition scheduled to conclude in 2025.
This timeframe was chosen to mirror each year between 1965 and 1975 when the U.S. had combat troops in Vietnam, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Maj. Gen. Duane Gamble, commanding general, U.S. Army Sustainment Command and RIA senior mission commander, hosted the ceremony and provided remarks.
Gamble focused on recognizing those who, regardless of their personal feelings or family commitments, did the right thing by joining the service when their nation called.
"I am proud as an American that we have now formalized a day in remembrance of you, our great Vietnam War veterans - that whole generation that served our country selflessly on the field of battle," he said.
Gamble expressed deep regret about the way Vietnam War veterans were treated and about how they received little or nothing in terms of recognition and gratitude.
"I am sorry," he said. "Since then, our country has learned from our mistakes, and I am proud we have corrected that behavior."
National Vietnam War Veterans Day is meant to pay tribute to veterans of the Vietnam War, including personnel who were prisoners of war or who were listed as missing in action.
The observance is also meant to show appreciation for the involvement and support of allies during the Vietnam War.
"Wars change everybody," Gamble said. "But what you bring back is a greater respect for our country, a greater and deeper patriotism that those who haven't served in combat may not know."
The Defense Casualty Analysis System estimates that 58,307 U.S. military personnel were killed in action, while 150,000 were wounded and more than 1,600 went missing.
About 120 of the Soldiers killed in action during the Vietnam War were residents of Scott and Rock Island counties. More than 2,800 Vietnam veterans are buried at Rock Island National Cemetery.
In his closing remarks, Gamble encouraged those who served in Vietnam to speak up and share personal stories about their time spent in the service.
"You are a great example of what service means," Gamble said. "I would like to ask you to make an effort to educate the younger generations about service in wartime and service to our country -- and to educate them on how important this is to our nation."
Gamble presented Vietnam Veteran Lapel Pins to every Vietnam veteran attending the event, to symbolize their courage, honor, and dedicated service.
Those who attended said they appreciated the event.
"This group of people together - it is so unique, so beautiful," said Larry Molitor, an Army veteran who served with the 4th Infantry Division in Vietnam.
Other veterans from around the area came to support the event.
"As long as you were in combat, it doesn't matter which war you fought in," said Robert Fitts, a Korean War veteran who attended the event. "You don't forget.
"War can change your whole perspective, it can destroy you if you let it," Fitts said, explaining why it is so important to have a supportive community for veterans.
"It is important to get out into the community so that people don't forget," said Tom Hickson, a Vietnam-era Navy veteran and secretary of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 299, Rock Island, Illinois. "You have to educate the younger people about the past, about our wars, otherwise they're going to keep fighting them.
"We have to learn from our mistakes, change a few things, and hopefully create a better future for the new generations," Hickson said.
"We want our grandchildren to live in a free country and feel safe."