Former U.S. military personnel of the Vietnam War era, along with their families and friends, came together in DeBary March 29 to recall what may be the most controversial war in American history.
The date is known as Vietnam Veterans Day, because on that date in 1973 the U.S. ended its military role in the long-running conflict. The last increment of American combat troops left South Vietnam, as North Vietnam released its last increment of American prisoners of war. Peace was supposed to come to the divided Vietnam, as the Paris Agreement, signed by the diplomats of the U.S. and North Vietnam, was implemented.
In the months that followed, there were numerous violations of the peace agreement, culminating in North Vietnam’s offensive in the spring of 1975 and the fall of the South Vietnamese government in Saigon at the end of April of that year. The communists’ conquest of South Vietnam was paralleled by the fall of Cambodia to the genocidal Khmer Rouge, and the conquest of Laos by the Pathet Lao and North Vietnam.
The loss of the U.S.-backed governments in Southeast Asia, after the expenditure of so much American blood and treasure, was something most Americans wanted to forget. Also forgotten or ignored was that many Americans had invested their own best years and efforts to bring freedom to countries far away. Many of those who answered their country’s call to serve and lived to tell about it did not even receive the respect they deserved — until several years afterward.
“When I came back, I had to take my uniform off, because they were going to throw stuff at us,” Col. Roy Peters, U.S. Army (retired), said.
Now, after all these years, he noted, there is new interest in the Vietnam War.
“The younger generation is very much interested,” Peters said, referring to a recent visit to Lake Mary High School, where he talked with students. “They wanted to know the things we carried. They wanted to know how we were treated when we came back.”
Vietnam Veterans Day is a belated occasion to pay tribute and say “Thank you” to those who served in a thankless war and are now advancing in years. To that end, VFW Post 8093 observed the day and called upon others to do so, as well.
As for the Americans who served honorably in the Vietnam War, Peters reminded the audience they still need understanding.
“They’ve done things no one should ever have to do. They saw things no one should ever have to see. They’ve said things no one should ever have to say,” he concluded.
All photos by Al Everson