March 29 was National Vietnam War Veterans Day, and these veterans were honored at events across the nation, including at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.
At “The Wall,” as it’s commonly called, a number of veterans received Vietnam Veteran lapel pins from Kim Joiner, the acting principal deputy assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs, on behalf of the Defense Department. These event also featured a wreath-laying event at the memorial.
One of the veterans being honored was Duery Felton Jr., who served in the Army in Vietnam from 1966 to 1967.
He was just 19 when he got to Vietnam after being drafted. “Vietnam stole my youth,” he said, adding that he has mixed feelings about his experiences there.
He was a radio telephone operator in the 1st Infantry Division with the rank of specialist 4.
The moment that stands out most in his mind, he said, is when his platoon was ambushed. During the ensuing firefight, he said he lost many comrades, all of whose names are inscribed on The Wall that he now stood beside.
During monsoon season in another firefight, he remembered rivulets of rainwater turned red from the blood.
Before returning home, Felton said, his leaders warned him not to wear his uniform in public because of the war protesters and the harm that might come to him. “Coming home was a culture shock,” he added.
After returning home, Felton used his G.I. Bill to go to college. A number of other Vietnam veterans were in college with him, and he said he noticed a high level of maturity these veterans displayed compared to the other students. Vietnam had that positive effect as well, he noted.
Appreciation for recognition
Regarding the March 29 events, Felton said he appreciates all the warmth and recognition expressed for the veterans, but he laments the many who never made it back to get that appreciation.
Another of the veterans being honored was Anthony Mustifa, who served in Vietnam in the Air Force from 1968 to 1969 as a combat security policeman with the rank of sergeant.
Mustifa said he arrived in Vietnam as an 18-year-old, and the events he witnessed over the course of his tour were traumatic, particularly seeing his buddies get killed.
“We got hit Feb. 22, 1969,” he said. “We had to pick up body parts without any gloves or anything the next day after a firefight.” Another day that stands out in his mind, he said, was June 17, when his men got hit by an enemy rocket barrage.
“People labeled you as a crazy Vietnam vet, so you held everything in. You didn’t talk about your experience in Vietnam,” he said.
“I didn’t talk about Vietnam until 1999, when I found out something was wrong with me,” he said. He went to Veterans Affairs to get help for his post-traumatic stress disorder. He said he still goes to VA facilities to get help for the trauma he still experiences.
“I’m still learning how to cope — still adjusting, still coping, still trying to find myself,” he said.
Despite all that, he said, his Vietnam experience gave him a deeper appreciation for America.
Committed to healing
Gary Tallman, executive director of VA’s Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, also attended the event. He said VA is committed to helping veterans to heal and “is proud to partner with DOD for this noble mission to support communities – large and small alike – throughout the nation to thank and honor thousands of Vietnam veterans and their families.”
During this, the second anniversary of National Vietnam War Veterans Day, VA and DOD are supporting more than 1,600 similar events in many states across the nation, he noted.
Joiner said it was a great privilege to attend the event to honor those who served during Vietnam and those who serve today. “It’s important we recognize their sacrifices, and it’s important we keep our commitments to those who answered the call to arms,” she said.
On March 28, 2017, President Donald J. Trump signed into law The Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017, establishing The National Vietnam War Veterans Day, now celebrated each year on March 29.
The recognition is extended to men and women who served on active duty in the U.S. armed forces from Nov. 1, 1955 to May 15, 1975, whether in peacetime or war. Nine million Americans — about 6.4 million of them living today — served during that period.