HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- During a heartfelt ceremony delayed for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, local Vietnam veterans gathered at the Huntsville-Madison County Veterans Memorial to celebrate patriotism and freedom, honor those lost in battle and share memories with a Redstone Arsenal three-star general whose father served alongside them in war.
The 10th annual Vietnam Veterans Day Celebration, hosted by Chapter 1067 of the Vietnam Veterans of America, included a performance of the Vietnam song “My Brother” and “Amazing Grace,” a roll call of Vietnam veterans who have died in the past two years and a salute by the active duty in the audience to the Vietnam veterans in attendance. It was held March 29 on National Vietnam War Veterans Day, which marks the day, in 1973, when the last combat troops left Vietnam.
“On this historic day, we commit to you to continue to uphold the values that you fought for. Your dream of freedom, peace, prosperity and safety will continue to live on long after we are all gone. Let us never forget the sacrifices you made for all of us,” Lt. Gen. Donnie Walker , Army Materiel Command deputy commanding general and Redstone Arsenal senior commander, told the 250 veterans, family members and other attendees at the celebration during his remarks.
More than 6 million Vietnam veterans and 9 million families of those who served live in America and abroad. More than 58,000 service members were killed in Vietnam and more than 153,000 came home wounded. More than 1,200 service members remain missing in action.
Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Charlie Miller, president of Chapter 1067, presented Walker with a Vietnam Veterans of America medallion in honor of Walker’s father, Sgt. First Class Flem Bowen “Donnie” Walker Sr., who served two tours of duty in Vietnam as a combat medic. Walker’s father, who is also being added to Chapter 1067’s Hall of Heroes, served more than 20 years in the Army, retiring in 1976 and moving back to the family farm in Lineville, Ala. He passed away in November 2020.
“My father was all about the Army. This means a great deal to me personally, as well as to my entire family,” Walker said of the recognition. “My father was indeed quite a man. It humbles me to talk about him. As we say down in Clay County, my dad was as tough as a ‘lightered stump’ or, put another way, he was Army strong. He gave his best years to the Army and to our nation.”
Walker said his father’s faith, love of family and commitment to service made him not only a hero to his son, but also inspired his son to military service.
“Because of him, I understand the cost we paid for the Vietnam War,” Walker said. “I look into the faces of the Vietnam veterans here today and I see my dad and it makes me smile. He may have fought alongside you, deployed with you or served with you during his 23 years of service.”
Walker said it is important to him to attend the local Vietnam veteran celebration so he could express appreciation for the continued service of veterans and demonstrate commitment to telling the Vietnam story.
“Your patriotism and love of nation runs deep, and I am proud to be able to stand not only among you but beside you each and every day,” he said.
Walker shared with the audience lessons from Vietnam that he learned from his father, including:
· The human spirit can overcome the impossible. “The jungles of Vietnam created seemingly insurmountable challenges. Jungle warfare is unforgiving,” Walker said. “Public sentiment on your return created equally difficult challenge in your lives. But Vietnam veterans are a tough lot. You have survived, overcome and flourished. You are loved by your families and the communities where you call home. You are examples of what is means to fight for liberty and freedom, and for the red, white and blue.”
· Vietnam veterans are honor bound to stand up for what they believe in. “Many of you were drafted. All of you learned discipline, and when you were told to go to Vietnam, you went and did what was asked of you, and you looked after those who served with you,” Walker said. “You have shown the generations coming up behind you what it means to serve a nation committed to defending freedom throughout the world.”
· It is important to take care physically, emotionally and spiritually. Despite the wounds of Vietnam, “today, you stand tall because you have overcome,” Walker said. “What’s more, you have reached out to your brethren and helped to bring them through those same challenges, and you have provided guidance, assistance and ceremonial honors to veterans of Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan. I commend you for keeping alive the brotherhood that you first experienced in war.”
· Not everyone says “Thank you” for military service. “As a nation, we are grateful to your generation of warriors and to your families who have stood by you. We can’t change what happened 50 years ago. But, through the nation’s Vietnam War Commemoration Program, we are committed to expressing our sincere gratitude for your service, and to honor your sacrifice,” Walker said.
The event was one of many around the nation as part of the United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration, a national program authorized by Congress, established under the Secretary of Defense, and launched in 2012.