Vietnam veterans honored in San Diego ceremony
Veterans and their families gathered at Miramar National Cemetery on Tuesday to commemorate the day set aside to honor their service: Vietnam War Veterans Day. It's observed every year on March 29, the anniversary of the day the last U.S. combat troops left South Vietnam in 1973.
"We salute all sailors, soldiers, airmen, marines, coast guard veterans — they represent the best of America," Chaplain Cmdr. Manuel Biadog Jr. said.
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The praise, salutes and honors of this ceremony are a sharp contrast to what veterans such as Charles Mowery said they came home to almost 50 years ago.
"The toughest thing for me, which will never go away, was the unwelcome home," Mowery said. "People just hated us just because we were Vietnam veterans, even in San Diego, [which] was a military town, it was even tough to get a job here because we were Vietnam veterans."
Sherman France was 19-years-old when he was sent to Vietnam. He said these memorial ceremonies are so meaningful to Vietnam veterans. "We were called names, spit at and not welcomed home at all, so now I’m glad we’re recognized 50 years later," he said.
Larry Anderson said he would never forget coming home from Vietnam. "I took my uniform, and I folded it up in a little ball and I just put in on a bench and put on my civilian clothes so that I wouldn’t be yelled at when I go out that door. And that struck me the most, and I didn’t understand that," he said.
And people are still trying to understand everything that Vietnam veterans went through, including Bobby Rodriguez. He’s named after his father, who was stationed at Camp Pendleton and served in Vietnam.
"My dad, he would not talk about Vietnam War," Rodriguez said. "Growing up, we weren’t allowed to talk about it at all."
He recently discovered some letters that his father wrote during the war. His father was part of the 1st Battalion 9th Marines, known as "the Walking Dead," because they suffered the most casualties of any combat troop.
He read a part of one of the letters to KPBS:
Greetings Sis ... Well we made it but we also lost 35 percent of our battalion. ... It was really hell. I've never seen so many bodies in all of my life. I thought for sure I was a goner. ... If I should die while here in Vietnam, I served my purpose. You see if I die, mom will receive $10,000 for the house and [younger brother] Ben would not have to come to the service. I don’t want Ben coming here."
Rodriguez said the letters were a real eye-opener. "He’s a hero," he said. "I have more respect for him now — which I always did, but it’s a lot more now just knowing what he went through."
And that’s the hope — that commemorating this day will open the eyes of those who had no idea what Vietnam veterans went through, so when they see a man in an old cap that says Vietnam they tell them the words they didn’t hear nearly five decades ago, spokenTuesday by Miramar National Cemetery assistant director Jaime Salome:
"Though long overdue, we welcome you home."