WARSAW — With the passing of World War II and Korean War veterans, Vietnam War vets are quickly becoming the eldest generation of military heroes in this nation. Most Vietnam veterans are in their 70s.
Largely vilified upon their return from combat half a century ago, “we are just now really getting the respect we deserve,” said David White, who served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1970. White is a member of the VFW post in Warsaw.
The purpose of National Vietnam War Veterans Day, celebrated every March 29 since its proclamation by President Barack Obama in 2012, is to encourage that show of honor and respect. The date commemorates the departure of the final U.S. combat troops from Vietnam on March 29, 1973.
Though commemorative events in the area have been cancelled or postponed due to the pandemic, White is still helping plan a “military stand-down” event at the National Guard Armory in Warsaw “from 1-5 p.m. on a Saturday in the latter part of May.”
“In the war zone, military stand-down is basically where you come out of the front lines and go to the rear to relax and get cleaned up and maybe see a movie,” said White.
“This stand-down is basically for the health and needs of military personnel. We give them all kinds of clothing, packs of information and health providers, who come in from all over the state to help vets in any kind of situation they are in.”
White has been working with Warsaw Mayor Joseph Thallemer on the event. “He is all out veteran and we have held veteran appreciation days on First Fridays.”
White served as a lance corporal in the Marine Corps when his squad set foot in Vietnam in November 1967. “We were stationed two miles south of Khe Sanh at Ca Lu. We had fought to open the road to Khe Sanh and I got wounded three times. I was in the hospital when I heard we had pulled out and gave the road back.”
After his recovery White was stationed 27 miles due west of Da Nang until he returned home to Columbia City in June 1970.
“We did not get a very good reception when we came home,” he said. “Nobody appreciated us and most of their reaction of disrespect was just uncalled for.”
“We are getting the respect back now,” said White, who moved to Little Chapman Lake northeast of Warsaw shortly after he returned from the war.
“I wear a jacket with the Marine Corps emblem and I will be out somewhere and people, especially the young generation, will come up and shake my hand and say, ‘Thank you.’ Sometimes the way they treat me, I just think, ‘Wow, it is coming back the way it should have been.’”
“Sometimes I will eat at a restaurant with my wife and get up to pay the bill and someone has already paid it for us. I am really gratified that people are doing that now.”
The 72-year-old also served in the National Guard from 1972 to 1989, totaling 22 years in the military.
According to www.militarybenefits.info, the five objectives of the day are:
• Commemorations to thank and honor Vietnam veterans and their families for their service and sacrifice
• Highlighting the service of the Armed Forces and support organizations during the war
• Paying tribute to wartime contributions at home by American citizens
• Highlighting technology, science and medical advances made during the war
• Recognizing contributions by the Allies
The commemoration makes no distinction between veterans who served on Vietnam soil, in the theater of conflict or were stationed elsewhere during the war. Nine million Americans served during the war.
For more information, visit www.vietnamwar50th.com.