By Ms. Jessica Marie Ryan (IMCOM Europe)April 6, 2018
CHIÈVRES, Belgium -- March 29 is National Vietnam War Veterans Day in the U.S., and the Army and Air Force Exchange Service and Commissary employees joined the nation that day in honoring Vietnam War veterans at the Post Exchange mall on Chièvres Air Base, Belgium.
As veterans entered the PX mall, they were welcomed by a special display manned by employees who personally thanked each veteran for their service. In addition, veterans received the Vietnam War Lapel Pin, a commemorative pin given to U.S. veterans who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces at any time during the period of Nov. 1, 1955 to May 15, 1975, regardless of location.
Among the honored was retired U.S. Air Force Col. Hank Keese. He was surprised to see the display, especially since the day started out as a regular shopping trip to the PX.
Keese served as a pilot and did three tours in Southeast Asia from December 1967 to April 1975. He received wartime awards including the Distinguished Flying Cross with oak leaf cluster, 13 Air Medals and one Purple Heart.
He reflected that he did not receive the same welcome when he returned home from the war. As a result, like other veterans, he became adept at hiding his participation in the war.
"Society is a lot more connected. They understand what happens to a military person who goes overseas now. They get the story firsthand. Back in my day, it was whatever the press gave them, and it wasn't always positive for the military. Now, society is well-informed," he said.
"It was a pleasant surprise [to be honored today]. It was something that I appreciated, and I'm sure that any Vietnam War veteran would appreciate it too."
Lee Edwards, assistant store manager at the Chièvres Main Exchange Store, pinned the commemorative lapel button on Keese's jacket. Edwards, a military veteran, felt honored to hear Keese's story firsthand and thank him for his service.
"Chièvres is a small community. If one veteran walks in the door, you are in awe. To see the expression on Col. Keese's face when he saw the set-up was awesome," said Edwards.
National Vietnam War Veterans Day was first observed in 2012 after President Barack Obama proclaimed March 29 as "Vietnam Veterans Day." In 2017, President Donald Trump signed the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017, which officially recognizes March 29 as National Vietnam War Veterans Day. The day marks the anniversary of when the U.S. forces withdrew from the conflict in 1973.
Edwards emphasized the importance of honoring veterans in the community.
"I would like the community to remember is to pay homage and tribute to the veterans. They have been forgotten for a long time, and now the U.S., as a whole, is starting to recognize them," said Edwards.