Twenty-five Vietnam War veterans from Monroe County paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
Of those who died, three were 25 years old or older. Some were as young as 18.
“These are the children of our county,” Monroe County Veterans Service Officer Mary Elftman said to the crowd gathered on the courthouse lawn for the Vietnam War veterans commemoration ceremony on Friday. To the veterans among them, she said: “You gentlemen were children when you left, and you came home men.”
Recognizing those who served in the Vietnam War, living, dead or still missing in action, was the purpose of the commemoration ceremony.
For some, the event was a long overdue “welcome home” to surviving Vietnam War veterans who, unlike those who served in previous and following campaigns, were met with jeers rather than applause after returning from a war that was not popular with the American public.
“I think it is great they are finally doing a commemoration for the Vietnam War veterans,” American Legion Post Commander Richard Dunbar said. “They have just now started to be proud of what they did and hear ‘Welcome home.’”
Joe Hardin, a Vietnam War veteran and commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 604, said opinions about the war divided the nation, and some of those feelings were projected onto the Soldiers. He said many veterans returned home alone. Some opted to change out of their uniform before leaving the airport or even before getting off the plane in order to avoid being recognized as a returning veteran. That's a lot different from what happens today, he added.
Hardin said some had the comfort of family members once they returned to help them cope mentally and physically with the realities of war. Others had only the comfort found in bottle that temporarily numbs the memories of bullets zipping by, "like mini sonic booms," he said, and may have gone without treatment or conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dunbar said, even among some veterans service organizations after the war, Vietnam War veterans were snubbed. Now, at least locally, Vietnam vets make up a large portion of The American Legion's overall membership , he said, and more are joining, perhaps due to a changing attitude toward their service in Vietnam.
Hardin said Vietnam War veterans, just like other veterans, fought for their country and deserve recognition for their sacrifice. About 1.8 million were drafted to serve in the war between 1964 and 1973 and more than 58,000 Americans were killed or are missing in action. From Indiana, just over 1,500 are among those Americans who died in the conflict.
In a statement read by Elftman on behalf of former county Commissioner Charlotte Zietlow, she said the warriors who answered the call to service should not be the ones to pay the price for the attitudes the public had against the war. She said that after returning from Vietnam, veterans were overlooked, even here in Monroe County. She said as commissioner, it was brought to her attention that the Monroe County Courthouse lawn recognized every war America engaged in except the one in Vietnam. In 1991, that changed with the construction of the Vietnam War memorial, which she said could not have been a reality without help from people in the community who saw a need for it.
The names of 24 veterans who died in the war from Monroe County are a part of that memorial. Elftman said that after it was built, former county Veterans Service Officer Larry Catt learned of another Monroe County veteran who died in the war and whose name was unknown at the time to local officials. The 25th name has yet to be added.
The idea — that the service to this country of a generation of young men was being forgotten and needed to be recognized — is at the center of the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War, a 13-year program that includes ceremonies like the one on Friday that pay special tribute to Vietnam vets. That program began at a presidential event on Memorial Day, May 28, 2012, at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., and will conclude on November 11, 2025.
“As we observe the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, we reflect with solemn reverence upon the valor of a generation that served with honor,” reads a proclamation signed by President Barack Obama in 2012. “We pay tribute to the more than 3 million servicemen and women who left their families to serve bravely, a world away from everything they knew and everyone they loved.”
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