Installation holds fourth annual ceremony for approximately 250 Veterans
NTC and Fort Irwin
The National Training Center and Fort Irwin honored Vietnam Veterans during a ceremony at this active duty Army installation in the Mojave Desert, April 10.
Approximately 250 Vietnam War era Veterans came out to the “We Will Not Forget” ceremony. Families of the honorees and the Fort Irwin community attended the event, which was presided over by NTC and Fort Irwin Commander Brig. Gen. Ted Martin. Guest speaker Tom Lewis from Barstow, Calif., provided humorous and at times emotional remarks to the crowd gathered at the post helipad under a bright, blue sky.
During opening remarks, Martin thanked the Veterans for their service and for traveling to the NTC and Fort Irwin. He explained that his father served in Vietnam in 1965 and that he was never welcomed home.
“He passed away before our nation ‘stood to’ and finally paid a debt that we owe all of you – which is to welcome you home from that very hard tour or tours of duty that you performed for your country, giving selflessly of your service, time and treasure,” Martin said.
Martin also thanked Patriot Guard motorcycle riders and other motorcyclists for supporting funerals of fallen servicemembers from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Before the ceremony, some of the Veterans arrived on their motorcycles in a procession that originated at the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Barstow. Soldiers and leadership also participated in the ride that served as an escort for a bus carrying Veterans from the California Veterans Home in Barstow.
One of those motorcyclists, Larry Morris, served as an Army sergeant in Vietnam from 1966 to 1968. Morris said that the ceremony is a type of event that allows communities to recognize Vietnam Veterans for who they are and represent.
“Especially for combat Veterans – a lot of people don’t understand about PTSD, and finally after all these years many of us Vietnam Veterans are finally being understood better,” Morris said. “Some of us went through pretty bad ordeals and people didn’t understand that type of thing and they started labeling you – baby killers, etc. Over the years, the decades, the population has separated the politics from the [servicemember], and I think that’s a huge thing – instead of lumping us in to the politics part of it. I’m really glad to see that.”
Gary Bell, who made the trip from his home in Utah to attend the ceremony, served four years with the Marines from 1965 to 1969, and had two tours to Vietnam. Welcome home ceremonies were not held back then, he said.
“I couldn’t even wear my uniform when I came home, because people looked down on us,” said Bell. “This [ceremony] salutes the Vets who didn’t get saluted before.”
Bell’s daughter, Dianna Ross of Barstow, wanted her father to attend the ceremony this year.
“I thought it would be a really good experience for him,” Ross said. “I’ve been to this event before, and I knew he would really enjoy it. You get to meet a lot of wonderful people, who have served our country.”
Some Vietnam Veterans continued to serve the Army after they hung up their uniform. One such Veteran, Bobby Gumz, served in Vietnam with the Army from 1968 to 1969. In 1981 he came to the NTC and Fort Irwin and began supporting the training mission as a contractor employee. He was director of Training Support Division when he passed away Dec. 12, 2012.
During the ceremony, an American flag was folded by members of the Fort Irwin Sergeant Audie Murphy Club in honor of Gumz. His wife Beverly was presented the flag by NTC and Fort Irwin Command Sgt. Maj. Lance P. Lehr. The narrator for the ceremony provided the audience with the following commentary:
“On behalf of the President of the United States, the U.S. Army, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”
After the ceremony, Veterans were treated to a lunch where they got to socialize with fellow Veterans, servicemembers and civilians. Stories were swapped, laughs shared and words of wisdom imparted.
Charlie Ross, a Veteran living at the Barstow Veterans Home, enjoyed a sandwich and potato salad as he spoke about being drafted and serving one year in Vietnam, from 1969 to 1970. Originally from Baton Rouge, La., when he returned from the war he became a traveling musician, playing guitar until he retired. In 2005, hurricane Katrina forced him to leave Louisiana and he came out west. He’s been living at the Veterans Home for seven years. The cheerful, smiling gentleman appreciated that day’s events and thanked today’s servicemembers.
“A heartfelt thanks to all active duty troops stationed at Fort Irwin and overseas,” Ross said. “May God be with you.”