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Local Vietnam veterans discuss resolution

Local Vietnam veterans are planning an informal barbecue and get-together for Tuesday to observe the recent Senate designation of Vietnam Veterans Day at Veterans Park, but veteran Jerry Bratton is worried not many veterans will show up.

“I bet a lot won’t show because they’re still embarrassed they served in Vietnam,” said Bratton, who served in the U.S. Army from 1969-1971. “We went, we did, we came back and there were no ‘thank yous.’ There were no parades, no parties.”

Bratton said the designation, while appreciated, is long overdue.

“It’s good we have it to finally get some recognition,” he said.

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U.S. Marine Corps veteran Gene Hayes said when he enlisted in the summer of 1965, he hadn’t heard anything about Vietnam.

“It was a patriotic time for many of us with the ongoing Cold war and in the past, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the assassination of President J.F. Kennedy,” he said. “Every man 18 and older had a six-year obligation for government service.”

When he finally left to serve in Vietnam in November 1967, the U.S. had already lost 15,000 lives. By the time he returned home in December 1968, the losses were more than 31,000.

“I lost 15 of my high school classmates including one who was my best friend,” he said. “We lost over 35 men from Ector County, Texas and the Permian Basin, including two Medal of Honor recipients, posthumously.”

Realizing Mississippi was still one of 14 states without an official Vietnam Veterans Day, Hayes contacted Sen. Gray Tollison and asked him to introduce the resolution.

“Vietnam Veterans Day is very meaningful to me because we honor those we lost and we thank those men, and women, who answered the call to duty,” he said. “We must not forget the terrible sacrifice we paid as a country to keep freedom alive.”

Gail Wilson was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1967 and after five months of training, served in Vietnam until July 1968.

He can still remember the negative reactions from many Americans when he came home, not fully understanding the hate toward him and his fellow veterans.

“We got back, and there was a lot of verbal abuse,” he said. “We didn’t know why at the time. We found out after later.”

Wilson said the designation allows the country to finally recognize the Vietnam veterans and offer them respect and support.

“No veteran of this country should be treated that way,” he said. “All should be shown respect, even those who served statewide, as they’re fulfilling a duty as well.”

Wilson said the designation is a step in the right direction, although he’d prefer to have the day on a Saturday, when and if it becomes a permanent designation.

“It should be on like the last Saturday in March so more can attend events,” he said. “Many Vietnam vets are still working. And many have appointments at the VA during the week which they can’t miss or risk losing their benefits.”

Because of the way many were treated after the war, many Vietnam vets remain quiet about their time overseas. Local veteran organizations are slowly getting more Vietnam veteran members, but many still choose to stay to themselves, said U.S. Army veteran Bobby Freeman who served from 1970 to 1972.

“We were denied jobs here in Oxford when we came home,” Freeman said. “We were called ‘baby killers.’ And there’s still a stigma there toward us and a resentment from the vets who are afraid to speak out and stand out.”

The designation of Vietnam Veterans Day helps to give the troops who served during the Vietnam War a reason to change all of that, Freeman said.

“They’ve been quiet for too long,” he said. “The truth is, they are due to be honored. A lot of them can’t speak for themselves now, at least not with a public who doesn’t understand. That’s why there’s such a strong brotherhood between them.”