Local park honors Vietnam veterans

Partnered with US Vietnam War Commemoration, Heritage Park Veterans Museum invited veterans from all around Georgia to come and be recognized.

The honorary wreath stands in front of the Veterans Wall of Honor. It was presented to the audience toward the end of the event.

Video By Taylor Watkins, Music by David Gregory and Jim Houston

Emilie Castillo and Taylor Watkins

Tuesday, March 29, the Heritage Park Veteran Museum hosted a Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans ceremony, celebrating 41 years since the return of the last U.S. troops stationed in South Vietnam.

This was the first ceremony the Museum held as an official partner of the United States Vietnam War Commemoration, a program created to honor Vietnam Veterans in accordance with the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act.

There was a good turnout with a few hundred attendees including veterans and their family members.The ceremony itself was conducted at the Veterans Wall of Honor, and as Major General Arnold Fields, US Marine Corps (retired), pointed out in his keynote address, the weather could not have been more ideal for the occasion.

Marine Corps League Detachments 1339 and 1196 led the Posting of the Colors, followed shortly by the Pledge of Allegiance. Then, Chaplain Charles E. Jackson, LTC US Army (retired), gave the Invocation, ending with a moving prayer. Sergeant First Class Fred Pedro sang the National Anthem and the Henry County High School Band played several times throughout the ceremony.

Maj. Gen. Fields and SE Regional Representative, Rich Williams traveled from Virginia to participate in the ceremony. Their work with the Vietnam War Commemoration has led them to countless events throughout several states.

In his keynote address, Maj. Gen. Fields highlighted the foremost objective of not only the ceremony but of the Commemoration itself, as he said, “We are here to thank and honor our Vietnam War veterans and we are here to help you thank and honor your Vietnam veterans and their families.”

After his short speech, Richard McLeod and Darrell Woodall, Vietnam veterans, presented the wreath at the center of the Veterans Wall of Honor, and David Gregory, piper, played “Going Home” on the bagpipes.

Mrs. Pat Rosser, from the Andrew McBride Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, read Kelly Strong’s poem, “Freedom Is Not Free.”

Following this, Rick Berry, Commander, American Legion Post 55, led the special Lapel Pin ceremony. With the help of the Ola High JROTC members, every veteran present received a Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans lapel pin.

While the ceremony was going on Rick Berry read another poem called, “The Call of Duty,” and Chaplain Jackson returned to do the Benediction.

Following the retiring of the colors, Gregory played “Gary Owen” and “Amazing Grace.” As he finished his performance he slowly walked down the path away from the wall, his bagpipes slowly fading out.

Overall moving and inspiring, the ceremony came to a close with a few words from Maj. Gen. Fields and a performance of “Taps” by Jim Houston on the bugle.

The crowd remained well after the event ended as old friends greeted each other and veterans and families waited to speak with Maj. Gen. Fields and the other leading figures of the ceremony.

There were several people who contributed to the success of the commemoration and during his address, Maj. Gen. Fields took the time to recognize those individuals, including Jim Joyce, Museum Director and Command Sergeant Major, US Army (retired).

Joyce, alongside the team of Museum volunteers (all of whom are veterans), is the one who reached out to the Commemoration in the first place to get the event underway. He thought the event turned out even better than he had originally envisioned.

Joyce said, “You know, it made a lot of veteran’s tear up because so many of them, so many of us, came home from Vietnam and nobody ever said thank you or anything. And so it’s nice to be able to do that for people and it worked out really well.”

He went on to talk about the development of the Heritage Park Veterans Museum and the opportunity it has presented them with, to not only teach younger generations but to create a comfortable environment for other veterans to open up about their time in service.

Few realize the novelty of having a museum like this available. In Henry County alone there are some 5,000 veterans and Heritage Park is the only veterans museum in Henry dedicated to all US wars.

According to Rich Williams, there are 160 commemorative partners of Vietnam War Commemoration in Georgia. When the Museum became a commemorative partner they were presented with a flag and a certificate, but they were also guaranteed assistance in creating events like the ceremony on Tuesday.

In an interview Maj. Gen. Fields expressed his personal beliefs as to why this program is so important. He said, “We should honor all our veterans regardless of the war which they fought in because they have put themselves in considerable harms way and left their families… It’s a disruptive thing to become a part of the military and then to be sent off to the battlefields to fight for one’s country.”

For those who missed this Vietnam Veterans day ceremony there are still more to come and plenty of ways to get connected and recognized. For organizations interested in becoming a commemorative partner, signing up is easiest through the Commemoration’s website (http://www.vietnamwar50th.com/).

Heritage Park hosts a handful of other ceremonies like this one throughout the year, and Joyce said, “This is the first [Vietnam Veteran] ceremony we’ve had in Henry County, but it won’t be our last.”