Vietnam War 50th anniversary commemoration: Veterans to be honored in Washington, Iron counties

SOUTHERN UTAH — As the capstone to a year-long commemoration of the Vietnam War’s 50th anniversary, Utah Vietnam veterans and their wives will be honored in six ceremonies across the state, including in Washington and Iron counties.

Retired Navy Captain Ron Lewis listens attentively as the SUU Band plays for the crowd, Southern Utah University Veterans Resource and Support Center, Cedar City, Utah, March 22, 2016 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News
Retired Navy Captain Ron Lewis listens attentively as the SUU Band plays for the crowd, Southern Utah University Veterans Resource and Support Center, Cedar City, Utah, March 22, 2016 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News

The Washington County commemoration will begin Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Falls Event Center, and the Iron County commemoration will be on April 6 at 6 p.m. in the Gilbert Great Hall at Southern Utah University.

“The people that we are celebrating at this event are the people that went and fought an unpopular war and came home and were spit on, yet they didn’t let that deter them,” said Court Pendleton, outreach programs specialist with the Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs.

In spite of the way Vietnam veterans were treated, Pendleton said, they were an instrumental proponent of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs developing programs that help service members with social issues such as education, healthcare, housing, unemployment and homelessness.

“They said, ‘No, this is never going to happen again,’” Pendleton said.

Pendleton cited the Vietnam Veterans of America motto: “Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.”

“And they have held to that promise,” he said.  

Retired Army Chaplain Sid Young and Marine veteran Bruce Raftree — both Vietnam veterans — were invited as keynote speakers to share their experiences as members of the United States armed forces from before, during and after the war and talk about how their participation in the war has shaped their lives. Raftree is scheduled to speak in St. George, and Young will speak in Cedar City.

Immediately following the keynote speakers, Pendleton said each veteran and their spouse will receive a commemorative pin that was specially created just for this event. Additionally, they will have the opportunity to receive a full-color copy of the recently released book “A Time to Honor, Vietnam 50 Years Later” and a full-length DVD of the documentary.

The book and documentary were created by Remember My Services, a group dedicated to providing the most comprehensive and accessible historical records of U.S. military units service available. According to their website:

Over the last 12 years of today’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, America has learned how to welcome home our troops with full honors and respect, regardless of how they feel about the policies of war.  The 50th Commemoration of the Vietnam War is the optimal time to finally show our Vietnam Veterans we have learned from our mistakes, and place the highest value on their willingness to serve and sacrifice.

In 2015, a commemoration at the Utah Capitol acknowledged the 50th anniversary of the war and a statewide focus on reaching out to Vietnam veterans to inform them of the services and benefits for which they qualify.

Pendleton said it’s important to acknowledge that not all of the veterans of the Vietnam War who were treated so poorly enlisted voluntarily.

“They went and did what they were asked to do,” he said. “And some of them weren’t even asked, some of them were drafted, and they didn’t run off to Canada or something like that, they hung it through and did what they had to do.”

Pendleton said the ceremony is the Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs’ way of thanking the service members who laid it all on the line, then were told to take their uniforms off before going out in public when they came home. Pendleton said:

After the ceremony, when they leave this event, they are going to finally have the opportunity that I received when I stepped off the airplane; to get someone to shake their hand and welcome them home — it may be a little bit to little, or a little bit too late, but it’s going to be there.                      

Event details

  • What: Washington County Vietnam War commemoration | Iron County Vietnam War commemoration
  • When: Tuesday, March 29, at 6 p.m. | Wednesday, April 6, at 6 p.m.
  • Where: Falls Event Center, 70 S. Mall Drive, St. George | Gilbert Great Hall, Southern Utah University, 351 W. University Blvd., Cedar City

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