Local Vietnam War-era veterans were honored Saturday for their contributions and sacrifices during a ceremony at Dalton's American Legion Post 112.
Every Georgia veteran with honorable service during the Vietnam War (from June 1, 1954, to May 15, 1975) was eligible to receive special certificates and/or pins -- including veterans with service in-country and those who served in other capacities -- presented by Mike Roby, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Veterans Service, and his staff members. Surviving family members could also receive state certificates and/or lapel pins on behalf of deceased veterans.
"It's my privilege" to host such a ceremony at Dalton's American Legion, said Lee Oliver, commander of the Post. "We welcome you with open arms."
Nearly 230,000 Georgians were in the armed forces during the Vietnam conflict and more than 8,000 were wounded in action, said Brian Zeringue, director of public information for the Georgia Department of Veterans Service. They still carry those wounds, "visible and invisible," with them today, Zeringue said.
In addition, family members of 28 native Georgians still haven't received closure, he said. Those 28 individuals remain missing or unaccounted for in Southeast Asia.
George Lo Greco, a Marine during the Vietnam era, offered a prayer Saturday and thanked God for the men and women who served during that time.
"They did their job," he said. "They did their duty," fighting for "the morals of the best country on the planet."
Saturday's recognition was "fantastic," not only for Vietnam veterans, but also for their families, said Larry Cooper, who served in the Army for two years, including a stint guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. "I'm proud to be here."
The U.S.A.'s Vietnam War Commemoration Vietnam Veteran Lapel Pin features an eagle, to represent courage, honor, and dedicated service to America; a blue circle, to signify vigilance, perseverance and justice; a laurel wreath, to represent victory, integrity and strength; stripes, to represent the American flag; six stars, to represent the six allies -- Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, Thailand, and the U.S. -- that fought in the conflict; and the message "A Grateful Nation Thanks and Honors You." As part of the Commemorative Partner Program, an initiative of the United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration, certificates of honor have been designed to recognize four categories of veterans and their families: former American prisoners of war; those still unaccounted for; in memory of; and for surviving spouses of deceased veterans.
Nearly 210,000 Vietnam veterans live in the state today, and it's "imperative that we stay committed to remembering and appreciating those Georgians with grateful hearts for their contributions and sacrifices while wearing the uniform of the United States Armed Forces during the Vietnam War," according to an official proclamation saluting Georgia's Vietnam veterans from Gov. Brian Kemp. "Georgia's Vietnam veterans are to be highly commended for their courage, bravery, devotion to duty, and sacrifice in the fight for peace and democracy," the proclamation also states.
Saturday's plaudits are "well-deserved," said John Beazle, who spent more than two decades in the Navy. Though Beazle, like Cooper, was never in Vietnam during the conflict, "I know many who were in-country, and they were never properly honored for their service."
Indeed, far too many Vietnam veterans were blamed when they returned to America for a war in which they "had no say-so," said Roby, who spent more than two decades in the Army before embarking on his tenure with the Georgia Department of Veterans Service. That lack of gratitude -- even hostility -- "was a national shame, a disgrace that never should have happened."
However, it's never too late "to say 'thank you' to our Vietnam veterans," said Roby, whose father was a Vietnam veteran. "Let's not forget our Vietnam veterans."
Saturday's service was especially poignant for family members of veterans no longer living, Beazle said. "I know some wives, and sons, and daughters of deceased veterans are here, and I know they feel quite honored."
Roby vowed Saturday that "the state of Georgia will never forget your personal sacrifice."
"We owe Vietnam veterans a large debt of gratitude," Roby said.