The National Training Center and Fort Irwin honored over 500 Vietnam Era Veterans during a ceremony on Feb 11. The event consisted of a group photo at the Painted Rocks, a parade, luncheon and program. The day concluded with a concert by Blue Oyster Cult.
Approximately 520 Vietnam War era Veterans came out to the 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. Jeff Broadwater. Guest speaker retired Army Lt. Gen. H.G. Pete Taylor former commander of the National Training Center, Ft. Irwin provided the keynote speech to the crowd gathered in the large tent located at Army field.
Before the ceremony, some of the Veterans arrived on their motorcycles in a procession that originated at the Barstow Mall. Over 300 motorcycles and classic cars from numerous cities and states convoyed to the installation to help kick off the event. 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 [service member], 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.”
Soldiers, families and members of the community then lined the road, holding signs and waving flags as many Vietnam Era Veterans had the opportunity to ride in their first “Welcome Home parade” held in their honor.
At the completion of the parade, the honorees entered the tent to a sound of thunderous applauses by active duty service members who served as their table hosts for the day. Also there to greet them were members of the Gold and Blue Star Moms organization as well as numerous volunteer organizations that included the USO, Goldstone NASA complex, Chamber of Commerce, Barstow pageant and the roller derby team from Ft. Irwin.
During opening remarks, Broadwater thanked the Veterans for their service and for traveling to the NTC and Fort Irwin. He also thanked all those who helped put the event together.
During the ceremony, a Missing Man table was set by members of the Fort Irwin Sergeant Audie Murphy Club in honor of all those lost. It was followed by a 21 gun cannon salute and a moving rendition of the song “Arlington” performed by Jeff Moore, a resident from Helendale, Ca.
Veterans were then treated to a lunch where they got to socialize with fellow Veterans, service members and civilians. Stories were swapped, laughs shared and words of wisdom imparted.
One of the most emotional moments in the ceremony occurred when active duty service members presented it Vietnam Era Veteran with an official gold pin that was developed by the Department of Defense and a commemorative coin.
Charlie Ross, a Veteran living at the Barstow Veterans Home, enjoyed a lunch 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 eleven years. The cheerful, smiling gentleman appreciated that day’s events and thanked today’s service members.
“A heartfelt thanks to all active duty troops stationed at Fort Irwin and overseas,” Ross said. “May God be with you.”
The ceremony concluded with Barbara Ormsby of Helendale, Ca. singing “50,000 Names” by George Jones and “God Bless the USA” by Lee Greenwood.
As they spilled out of the tent to attend the concert by Blue Oyster Cult, veterans were given additional gifts which included a t-shirt donated by the company Grunt Style, a gift bag donated by Goldstone NASA complex and a gift box donated by Operation Gratitude. This truly was a community celebration.