MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Community members and leaders gathered with Marines, sailors and Vietnam veterans at the Onslow Vietnam Veterans Memorial for the Vietnam Veterans Recognition Day ceremony Saturday, to remember the men and women who fought and gave their lives on behalf of the American people during their country’s longest conflict.
More than 58,000 Americans lost their lives in the brutal conflict and another 200,000 were wounded. The war, which spanned more than 19 years, left the American people divided, many of whom ignored the sacrifice made on their behalf.
"Today we mark the beginning of a conflict with the acknowledgment that we as a nation could have done better," said Michael Lazzara, City of Jacksonville Mayor Pro Tem. "Yellow ribbons, banners on fences, waiting family members and loved ones, that is how we should receive those who serve. This did not happen in the past, and we regret it."
The event also served as a platform for county and city officials to reveal the Onslow County Board of Commissioners designation for an annual welcome for the veterans of Vietnam and to designate April 30 the "Vietnam Veterans Recognition Day" in the city of Jacksonville.
"The memorial we stand under is a testament to this community’s resolve to never forget the sacrifices of those who gallantly gave their lives and continue to keep the faith of those still missing," said Brig. Gen. Thomas Weidley, commanding general of Marine Corps Installations East-Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. "President Lincoln proposed in his address following the battle of Gettysburg that it was the charge of those that survived the war to dedicate themselves to the great task remaining, to take from the honored dead an increased level of devotion to the cause for which they gave their last full measure. The memorial gardens, with its moving monuments and limitless potential for expansion, represent that very effort Lincoln might have imagined."
For many Vietnam veterans, the ceremony was an opportunity to pay tribute to their fallen comrades who paid the ultimate sacrifice and reflect on their own, personal sacrifices.
"There are names on my vest that are on this wall," said a retired master sergeant and Vietnam veteran. "This is something that I think about every day, and it makes me come out here and relive things that happened back then and those terrific human beings whose names are on that wall."
Continuing the nations veterans legacy and respecting their sacrifices is an important part of being an American, he added.
"If you have a veteran that you are not close to or maybe lives near you, make yourself aware to them. Some of them will talk and some will not, and you have to respect that. Finding out the history of what we went through then and even the history as late as the 90s that Marines have gone through is something to make yourself aware of because this has to be passed to our grandchildren."
He wears a black leather vest to commemorate and remember his fallen comrades, and said being able to commemorate and remembering his friends is not only his duty but an honor.
"On the back of the vest there are a very close friends, one is an Air Force captain who was taken down, they shot down his plane, I went to Swansboro High School with him," he said. "Two of the Navy corpsmen on there were killed over the same Marine. I was probably about 30 yards from them when that happened, there was nothing we could do about it."
Veterans of the Vietnam War felt they returned to an America who did not want them, from a war the American people did not understand, but the men and women who answered the nation’s call in a controversial time of turmoil were remembered that day as heroes.
"The gallantry, the bravery is just beyond reproach to what you see, it always comes down to that cliché: where do we get such men?" he said, with watering eyes. "Thank goodness in this country, so many of them wear the Marine Corps Emblem."