In a poignant gathering on April 13, 2018, at 7:00 PM, Vietnam veterans, and Vietnam era veterans were welcomed home in a long overdue Celebration at the community center. Despite tornado watches and possible inclement weather, a large crowd was in attendance to pay their respects the men and women who served during that time. Master of ceremonies, CPO Pete Howell, United States Navy, Retired, opened the program. Howell thanked everyone for joining in the celebration in remembering those who served during a tumultuous time in our nation's history. According to the National Archives and Record Administration, 9,087,000 military personnel served on active duty during the Vietnam era (August 5, 1964 - May 7, 1975) and 58,220 tragically lost their lives.
Following the 'Presentation of the Colors' by American Legion Post 64 Honor Guard, Commander Louis Gray, United States Navy, Retired, led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance. The invocation was given by Colonel Bob Morris, United States Air Force, Retired, who served his country for more than 30 years. Morris asked for "Special blessings and everlasting peace for the families of those warriors who died serving their country".
In the audience were veterans, members of law enforcement, Scouts, politicians, and members of the community of all ages that came together to honor and support our service men and women and join in the celebration to welcome them home.
Judge Jerry Holmes said, "Unfortunately those that returned from the Vietnam War did not always get the respect they deserved". It is the hope that this Celebration will bring peace and healing to the veterans who served during this period. Those who lost their lives and those still with us will never be forgotten.
Keynote speaker Lieutenant Colonel Richard ( Dick) Rogers who entered the Army in 1962 and retired from active service in 1982 spoke of his time serving his country. Rogers states " We Knew God was with us". Rogers was the recipient of the U S. Silver star and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.
A reading of "I'll Meet You At The Wall" was beautifully, and eloquently read by Carolyn Burrall, followed by a video of George Jones "50,000 Names Carved in the Wall".
Keynote Speaker Colonel Nate Todd, Director of Veterans Affairs said that Vietnam veterans "Came home to a generation that did not know their country". Todd served in the U.S. Army for 37 years including 33 years of active duty. He was awarded numerous medals including the Legion of Merit, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, and the Army Commendation Medal. Todd ended his speech with "Vietnam Veterans I Salute you".
Jennifer Inman sang a hauntingly beautiful rendition of the song "Hallelujah" and later in the program, as she performed "God Bless America" the audience stood and sang with her.
Colonel Anita Deason, Retired and Military and Veterans affairs liaison for Senator John Boozman, although not scheduled to speak, filled a spot left vacant when U.S Representative Rick Crawford was unable to attend. Deason spoke from the heart in an unprepared speech about the impact the war had on her own life. She said in my small town there was no celebration, no welcome home, so tonight let us celebrate "Let us thank you for what you've done for our country, welcome home".
Mayor Jimmy Clark welcomed the veterans home and said: "I give thanks to the men and women for our freedom". Together with Judge Holmes, Clark Proclaimed April 13, 2018, to be the official commemoration of the Vietnam War in Heber Springs. He stated, " We honor the great service and the great sacrifice".
The American Legion Honor Guard retired the colors and Morris closed the program with a prayer. The celebration was marked with flags, many thanks to the veterans, lots of tears, feelings of gratitude and numerous heartfelt welcome homes. Assisting Howell in bringing this great celebration to our community Were Louis Gray and Wally Rosier from the American Legion Post 64, Charles Stake, USAF, retired, Leah Kemper, Daughters of the American Revolution and Lisa Evridge, Cleburne County Veterans Affairs Officer.