“If you are able, save for them a place inside you…” These words come to us from Maj. Michael Davis O’Donnell, who went MIA (Missing in Action) in Vietnam on March 24th, 1970 and was formally declared KIA (Killed in Action) in 1978. This notion that we must always save a place in our hearts and memories for the sacrifices of our veterans was conveyed by New York City’s 3rd Annual Vietnam Veterans Recognition Day, where today’s Vietnam veterans were met at Veterans Memorial Plaza, by city officials, fellow veterans; both past and present, and more than 800 guests, volunteers and spectators who wished to thank them for their service and give them the welcome home they never received.
Following the dignitary procession led by the FDNY Emerald Society Pipes & Drums and the Presentation of the Colors by VVA Chapter 800, out of Bergen County, NJ; Command Sergeant Major Sylvia Laughlin led the celebration with an emotionally charged invocation honoring those present and those lost.
Gold Star Family and friends, who, in their own right, deserve recognition as they have given the ultimate sacrifice for this country by losing a family member to war, were able to put aside their own loss for a moment and join the celebration to properly honor Vietnam veterans.
Those in attendance heard the words of four distinguished guests: Mr. Scott Higgins, a Vietnam Vet himself, and Founder & President of Veterans Advantage, Colonel Rick Newton, Special Assistant to the Executive Director of the DoD Vietnam War Commemoration, Mr. John Rowan, National President, Vietnam Veterans of America and Mr. Paul Bucha former Army Captain and Medal of Honor Recipient for his actions in Vietnam.
The theme that seemed to bind their words together was that while we remember the past we must be mindful of the future. Said Mr. Paul Bucha, “This show is showing up again, the wheel has turned, and its not time for us to sit back…it’s a time to get up and make sure you are a member of VVA…not that we have 90,000 people but 900,000 people, and then they will listen to us!”
As representatives of the new generation of military veterans Mr. Mario Figueroa, a student at Columbia University and former U.S. Marine and Mr. Ariel Luna, Director of Veterans Service at Fairleigh Dickinson University and former U.S. Army, led a contingent of Columbia University’s Military Veterans in a speech that acknowledged that everything student veterans are benefiting from today came as a result of how poorly Vietnam era vets were treated. This sentiment was prevalent in the words of Mr. Mario Figueroa, “It is not lost upon us that we are drinking from a well which you have dug, it is because of the…treatment of Vietnam Vets that America has been made keenly aware of how veterans are to be treated and how valuable they are to society.”
Of the Columbia Milvets participation in this event, Nicholas Lozano had this to say, “As the Vice President of the oncoming Milvets Executive Board, I was proud to see so many student veterans participate in this event honoring Vietnam Veterans…Since many universities had previously been symbols of hostility towards Vietnam Veterans, it is my hope that this ceremony now reflects what these institutions have now become: Beacons of opportunity for men and women returning from war.”
On behalf of United War Veterans Council, Mr. James Rodgers from the NY State Division of Veterans Affairs and Commissioner Terrance Holliday, Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs also presented the leadership of notable veteran service organizations of the New York City area proclamations from Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg. These proclamations served to congratulate theses various organizations for their service to the veterans cause.
The event concluded with an outdoor wreath laying ceremony in which the Gold Star Mothers were again recognized for their sacrifice. The 6th Communication Battalion U.S.M.C., was present to offer a rifle salute to those lost, and Echo Taps was played by the 319th Statue of Liberty U.S. Army Band. At the conclusion of the outdoor ceremony the wreaths were placed at the foot of the glass, brick and granite memorial, which stands in Vietnam Veterans Plaza. As the procession of Gold Star Mothers walked to lay down their flowers in remembrance of loved ones lost to tragedy, it seemed out of a movie, as a slight rain fell from the sky on an otherwise bright day; attempting to wash away the tears of sorrow and replace them with hope for a more peaceful future.
As always, United War Veterans Council would like to express is gratitude for the generous support of History, HBO, U-Haul and Chase as well as all other support through donations or volunteerism.