When U.S. veterans returned home from serving in Vietnam, many were spat on and called filthy names.
More than 40 years later, veterans near and far will be recognized for their military service as part of National Vietnam War Veterans Day.
U.S. Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., co-introduced legislation to honor Vietnam veterans on March 29 each year on what is the anniversary when combat and combat support units withdrew from South Vietnam in 1973. The measure, expected to get President Donald Trump’s signature soon, passed in the House of Representatives March 21 and in the Senate Feb. 3.
Toomey, who held a telephone news conference Monday afternoon about National Vietnam War Veterans Day, said Vietnam veterans did not receive proper respect or gratitude when returning home.
“Some of them were actually treated quite poorly,” he said. “And that was a tragic period in our history driven by people’s perceptions of the war. Fortunately, that, I think, is behind us now. And I hope and I believe we’ve gotten to a place where the American people realize how much we really should be grateful to the men and the women who served this country in Vietnam during that very, very difficult time.”
Toomey said he is looking forward to the public recognition of Vietnam veterans.
“They can learn about a difficult moment in the history of our country,” Toomey said. “It was a very divisive moment. But, at the same time, teachers should be really stressing the tremendous sacrifice by the men and women who served in Vietnam.”
Zachariah Pearson, director of McKean County Veterans Affairs, also expressed his support to honor Vietnam veterans.
“Vietnam veterans nobly served during a conflict which was not too popular during that time; a war that took the lives of over 58,000 service members,” he said. “It’s an absolute shame the way in which this country responded to the welcoming home of our Vietnam veterans. When they got home, they struggled to find employment, healthcare and places to go to talk about some of the events that took place over there.”
Pearson said it’s vital that the nation, as a whole, treat Vietnam veterans in the same manner as other veterans — with honor and respect.
“As a country, I feel we have stepped our game up in the way we treat our veterans now, but it was not always that way,” he said. “To have an isolated day to recognize our Vietnam War heroes is the least we can we do for a group of Americans that bravely answered the call when their country needed them, whether they agreed with the decision to go to war or not.”
U.S Army Vietnam veteran Harold Redding from York, who spoke at Toomey’s news conference, floated the idea for the National Vietnam War Veterans Day legislation, and he worked with Toomey’s office for several months.
When he received the news about the act passing the House, he said he found himself ecstatic. Finally, the Vietnam veterans would be recognized for their service, he indicated.
John Biedrzycki of McKees Rocks, a U.S. Army Vietnam veteran and past national commander-in-chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, indicated at the conference that he is glad veterans will be acknowledged.
“Every day, as far as we’re concerned, is Veterans Day,” Biedrzycki said.