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Vietnam War Veterans Day set for March 29

By Gene Hays

It was March 29, 1973 when American combat and support troops were withdrawn from South Vietnam as ordered by President Richard Nixon. On March 28, 2017, President Donald Trump signed the Vietnam War Veterans Day Act, calling for United States flags to be flown on March 29 in honor of those who served. In Mississippi, 2016 SCR 620 was adopted as recognizing March 29  as Vietnam Veterans Day. In 2017, HB 976 was enacted and signed by Gov. Phil Bryant designating March 29 of each year as Vietnam Veterans Day.

The purpose of the national and state legislation is to honor the men and women who served and sacrificed for over 12 years. Returning veterans did not always receive recognition for their service after returning to the United States. These Vietnam veterans did not make the decision to go to war but had to live with the critics when they came home. My purpose here is not to argue the merits of the war but to explain why so many accepted the call to arms during the early part of the war. In my case, along with most of my classmates, we were in the middle of the Cold War ready to confront the Soviet threat of spreading Communism known as the “domino theory.” We experienced first hand during the Cuban Missile Crisis the looming threat of nuclear war. We practiced in our classrooms what to do in case of air raids or nuclear war. Our president was assassinated, and many conspiracy theories abounded with some blaming Castro in Cuba and the Soviets. We were patriotic during this era and we were ready to confront our foes.

I enlisted in the Marine Corps in June 1965 and served one 13-month tour of duty at Chu Lai, Republic of Vietnam. When I left home in November 1967 to report for duty in Vietnam, we had over 15,000 troops that were killed in action. When I left Vietnam in December 1968, that number of killed in action was over 30,000. I lost 15 fellow classmates from Odessa Permian High School in Texas including one of my best friends. One of my classmates, along with one from Odessa High School, were awarded our nation’s highest honor, the Medal of Honor. Today there is a school named for them the Wilson-Young Medal of Honor Middle School in Odessa, Texas. They, along with so many others who served, including myself, thought we were part of a noble cause and we pledged to defend each other in combat.

On March 29, 2018, we salute our men and women who served and died in the Vietnam War and the 800,000 Vietnam Veterans still alive, many of whom still suffer from their wounds.

Please join us this March 29 beginning at 3 p.m. at the Veterans Park on Veterans Drive across the street from the Mississippi State Veterans Home. There will be hamburgers, hotdogs and other side dishes and water at no charge. The public is invited to come and thank all our veterans and enjoy good food and fellowship. In case of rain, we will move to the Veterans Building adjacent to the park. This event is being hosted by Jerry Bratton and Gene Hays with support from the Disabled American Veterans Chapter, the DAV Auxiliary and the Marine Corps League, all in Oxford. For further information, call Jerry Bratton at 662-801-1388 or Gene Hays at 662-832-7977.

Gene Hays is an author, historian and retired Marine Master Sergeant. His email: rghays47@gmail.com.