After receiving a bitter and sometimes humiliating welcome home decades ago, some 200 area Vietnam veterans can expect a long overdo “thank you” next month.
“We want these troops to know that people care about them,” said Rich Kriner of the Montezuma VFW Post 5231.
Three years ago, Kriner led efforts to organize a Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day recognition ceremony for World War II veterans. After honoring Korean War veterans on Dec. 7 last year, Kriner said he simply wanted to follow up and commemorate Vietnam-era veterans in 2015.
“We want these veterans to know that we are thankful for their sacrifices to protect the country,” said Kriner, who served as a U.S. Marine infantryman during the Cuban Missile crisis.
Held at the Montezuma County Annex in downtown Cortez, the Pearl Harbor Day ceremony takes place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 7. The public is invited.
The event includes remarks from VFW Post 5231 Commander David Johnson and a presentation of certificates to each Vietnam veteran who attends. About 2.7 million American men and women served in Vietnam, and more than 58,000 were killed, and 153,000 were wounded. Another 766 U.S. military personnel were captured and held as prisoners of war. Of those, 114 died while in captivity. The war officially ended on May 7, 1975.
“They were promised the world and got nothing,” said Kriner.
Although the country was in turmoil over the Vietnam War, former Desert Storm combat medic Robert Valencia said the highly contentious era helped to spur U.S. officials to improve the Veterans Administration, which remains under fire today.
“The Vietnam veterans stood up for the benefits they earned and deserved,” said Valencia. “We need to find a way to thank them, because it doesn’t happen enough.”
Montezuma County is home to some 2,400 American military veterans.