RICHMOND, Va. — Dozens of Vietnam-era veterans were honored with a ceremony and special pin during a Vietnam Veterans Day commemoration March 29, 2019, at the Sitter and Barfoot Veterans Care Center in Richmond, Virginia.
The ceremony, hosted by the Virginia Department of Veterans Services, featured Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs Carlos Hopkins, and commander of the Virginia Air National Guard, Brig. Gen. Jeffery Ryan. Walt Mercer, chief operations officer for the Department of Military Affairs, and Command Sgt. Maj. Ronald L. Smith, Jr., Virginia Army Guard command sergeant major, also participated in the ceremony, which saw 88 total veterans honored with the special pin.
“On this day, Virginians join Americans across the nation to celebrate and honor our Vietnam War veterans, who stepped up and answered the call to serve,” said Northam. “I am grateful for the service and sacrifice of these brave men and women, and for their continuing contributions to this country and this Commonwealth.”
According to a news release from the governor’s office, Virginia is home to about 200,000 veterans who served during the Vietnam era.
“The United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration called on commemorative partners to place a special focus this year, and especially on National Vietnam War Veterans Day, on reaching Vietnam veterans in senior care facilities,” said DVS commissioner John Newby.
Hopkins, who also serves as a colonel in the Virginia National Guard, agreed.
“Today, and every day, our Vietnam veterans should receive the recognition they earned and deserve,” said Hopkins.
National Vietnam Veterans Day, observed annually, was created by the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017, signed into law by President Donald Trump. Previously, President Barack Obama had declared March 29, 2012, as Vietnam Veterans Day, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the conflict.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 9 million Americans served during the Vietnam era. Though the Virginia National Guard was not federally activated to serve during the Vietnam War, several Vietnam-era Army aviators did eventually join the guard after their active-duty tours were completed. Pilots like retired Chief Warrant Officer 5 Norman McIntosh used the skills and lessons they learned overseas to help complete their state active duty missions.
“In Vietnam, you were either moving troops, picking them up and inserting them into landing zones, or you were pulling them out,” said McIntosh, who retired in 2010 as the longest-serving VNG aviator. “So, if you think about moving troops, resupplying troops or evacuating the wounded – that’s just a perfect match to the state mission for any floods, snowstorms, any disasters we may have.”
McIntosh flew state missions during some of Virginia’s worst natural disasters over four decades, including historic snow storms, floods and hurricanes.
“On all of those disasters, we were either looking for stranded motorists, recovering stranded motorists, dropping hay to cattle, or evacuating patients,” said McIntosh. “With the training we had from Vietnam, it made for a very easy transition.”
Retired Col. James Holden, a former Virginia Army National Guard chief of staff, also served as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. He joined the VNG as an aviator after his active duty service concluded, eventually becoming the state aviation officer and then the chief of staff. Holden said it’s vital to remember those who served in Vietnam, as well as other conflicts.
“I think it’s important to remember any veteran who has raised their hand,” said Holden, who retired from the Guard in 1999. “It’s important to honor all veterans as long as you served lawfully.
“During that era there were plenty of people who avoided service,” Holden continued. “I think anybody that raised their hand deserves to remembered for the service they provided for their country.”
Holden said the best way to remember and honor Vietnam’s aging vets is often the simplest.
“I hear a lot of people who say ‘thank you for your service.’ I think that means an awful lot, whether it comes from another vet, or anyone,” said Holden. “To me, it’s pretty touching. There were days in the 60’s and 70’s when plenty of people would give you the cold shoulder. Now, it’s pretty refreshing to hear someone say, hey, thank you. It means a lot to me.”