March 29 was Vietnam Veterans Day.
For Abingdon, Virginia, resident Walter Wagner, the feeling of appreciation shown to him at the ceremony — hosted by Mountain Home National Cemetery at the Historic Cemetery committal shelter — was overwhelming.
“This meant a whole lot,” he said, trying to hold back tears. He, like most Vietnam veterans, remembers all too well the feeling when he returned from the war. Friday’s event resolved some of that pain for Wagner.
Jerry Bullard, a 19-year-old Naval corpsman from 1968 to 1969, arrived in Vietnam two weeks before the Tet Offensive, the bloodiest part of the war. He said his wife was the only person waiting at the airport when he arrived home from the war. His parents weren’t there and they never asked him anything about the time he served, he said.
Seeing Vietnam veterans get the recognition they deserved helps ease the pain, he said.
Fast facts about Vietnam War veterans:
• 9 million Americans served during that time
• 6.4 million are living today
• 2.7 million U.S. service members served in Vietnam
• 58,000 military casualties, memorialized on a black granite wall in our Nation’s capital
• 304,000 wounded
• 1,253 Missing in Action heroes who have not yet returned to American soil
• 2,500 Prisoners of War
Keynote speaker Lt. Col. Shawn Dodge, commander of the East Tennessee State University ROTC, paid tribute to all Vietnam veterans, but spoke specifically about the men who graduated from the ROTC program.
In a remembrance of those who never came home from the war, two members of Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 979, presented the Missing Man Table, which consists of a table for one, covered in a white cloth with an American flag, a red rose in a vase with a red ribbon around it, a candle, a Bible and a single chair.