Service, sacrifice of Vietnam vets recognized nationally

Florence-area veterans say appreciation of their contributions in Vietnam has never been better

March 28, 2018 — National Vietnam War Veterans Day is a commemorative holiday, celebrated on March 29, to acknowledge the service and sacrifice made by veterans serving in one of America’s most divisive and longest wars.

The need to formally recognize veterans from the Vietnam era was first acknowledged by President Barack Obama on March 29, 2012.

Obama issued a proclamation on that day that “called upon all Americans to observe this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies and activities that commemorate the 50 year anniversary of the Vietnam War.”

Obama’s proclamation went on to say, “The Vietnam War is a story of different backgrounds, colors and creeds who came together to complete a daunting mission. It is a story of Americans from every corner of our nation, who left the warmth of family to serve the country they loved. It is a story of patriots who braved the line of fire, who cast themselves into harm’s way to save a friend, who fought hour after hour, day after day to preserve the liberties we hold dear.”

The proclamation was well received by Vietnam veterans because it captured the multi-cultural nature of the conflict, which saw volunteers and drafted soldiers serving alongside one another, often forming relationships that would carry on for years after the individuals’ service had ended.

The date was made a nationally-recognized annual holiday in 2017 by President Donald Trump.

The public recognition of Vietnam era vets was initially established by individual states in the 1970s on either March 29 or 30, to acknowledge the day that the last U.S. combat troops were withdrawn from Vietnam and the day the last prisoners of war held in Vietnam were released.

Unfortunately, Vietnam veterans received mixed support for their service upon returning home from the conflict that took the lives of more than 58,000 American service members.

The unpopularity of the war, opposed by many on the grounds that it was undeclared and appeared to unfairly draft citizens from minority communities and men from lower income families, changed the way in which the service of draftees and volunteers was perceived and acknowledged.

Florence-area resident Wally Schultz remembers returning from his tour to an almost hateful reception.

“I will make it short and sweet,” he said, ruefully. “When I got home, I was spit on and now people are buying me my lunch and dinner. The feedback I get now is very positive. People come up to me on the street and say ‘Thank you for your service.’ These are strangers, people I have never met, and they are thanking me for something I did 50 years ago. It is a really good feeling.”

Many Vietnam veterans agree that the treatment they receive now is invariably positive and supportive.

Patrick La Nasa served in both Korea and Vietnam and says the attitudes he faced upon his return are considerably different from the comments and support he receives these days

“There is a 110 percent difference from then to now. I was living in California and when I came back from Vietnam, it was like a miniature social revolution was going on and we were ‘the bad guys,’” La Nasa said. “Now it is a totally different country almost — and I’m talking about the attitude towards veterans from the Vietnam era. These days, strangers thank us for our service and offer to buy us a drink or a meal. It’s a major change.”

La Nasa is also planning a trip to Washington, D.C., later this summer, as a participant in an “Honor Flight” trip. He will be making the flight with his son.

“I’m getting ready to go on and Honor Flight. I spent 20 years in the corps, from ’52 to ’72. The sequence for going on these flights is World War II-era veterans, whether you served overseas or not, and then Korea and then Vietnam. But there is a two-year wait for Vietnam-era vets. I served in both eras, so I am going as a Korea Vet.”

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