EAU CLAIRE, Wis. — Forty-five years to the day that the last U.S. troops withdrew from the country, Vietnam veterans were honored for their service and sacrifice — in Wisconsin and across the nation.
Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, the state’s senior military officer and, as Wisconsin’s adjutant general, commander of the Wisconsin National Guard, joined Gov. Scott Walker and Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs (WDVA) Secretary Dan Zimmerman in honoring Vietnam veterans during “Welcome Home: A Vietnam War Commemoration” hosted at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 305 in Eau Claire. The March 29 ceremony recognized the service and sacrifice of Vietnam veterans, the fallen, the wounded, those unaccounted for, former prisoners of war, their families and all who served.
“From 1955 to ’75, some 9 million men and women wore the uniform during that time,” Dunbar, one of the guest speakers, said. “Over 3 million served on that piece of land, and over 58,000 paid the ultimate price. When you put that in context you realize these Soldiers, these Sailors, these Airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, served not only in a time of war for our country, but served in a time of great social unrest at home.”
He remarked upon the indifferent reception Vietnam veterans received when they returned from war, and thanked them for the tremendous support they have provided to the 10,000 members of the Wisconsin National Guard who have deployed around the world during the past 15 years.
“When it came time to send the National Guard here in Wisconsin off for many combat rotations, you were there whether it was 10 o’clock in at night or 3 o’clock in the morning, making sure that this generation of service members knew that you had their back,” Dunbar said to the standing-room-only crowd filled with Vietnam veterans.
The National Guard was used little during the Vietnam War. Afterward, the Army developed the “Abrams Doctrine” to include the National Guard and the Army Reserve as a part of the Total Force Concept and build a stronger connection between the military and communities throughout the country. This has also formed an even stronger bond across all components of the military.
“We’re part of what I like to call the red, white and blue line,” Dunbar said. “We’re Americans from all across this country who came from small towns, big cities, families rich and poor, and we serve this country.”
The Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017 designated every March 29 as National Vietnam War Veterans Day, and encourages displaying the U.S. flag that day to honor those who served in Vietnam.
“Thank you for all the Vietnam vets, for their service, courage and sacrifice,” Zimmerman said. “We will forever be in your debt.”
Walker signed a proclamation declaring March 29 to be Vietnam Veterans Day in Wisconsin, and commended the service of the Vietnam veterans as well as their community involvement and continued service to the nation. He acknowledged that many Vietnam veterans wear many hats, acting as volunteers and advocates for all service members, past and present.
“You want to make sure that the patriotism that is a part of who you are gets passed on from one generation to the next so we never lose the ideals of this great country,” Walker said. “We never lose why we fight to protect not just that flag, but the freedoms associated with it.”
Other guest speakers included Bee Yang, secretary of the Wisconsin Lao Veterans of America, and former WDVA Secretary Ray Boland, a retired Army colonel who started his career in the Wisconsin Army National Guard before transferring to the active Army and serving two tours in Vietnam as an AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter pilot.
Boland explained that his generation of veterans have written their own unique chapter in history, much like previous generations of veterans, and those who have followed since.
“We’re part of something bigger than Vietnam,” Boland said. “We’re part of a legacy that will live on forever, and that is why we can each be proud of the part that we have played in all of it.”