When David Smith first came home from service in Vietnam, he built a wall around him. He didn’t talk to people about his experience because he didn’t expect to be thanked. Now, years later, the Togus hospital of VA Maine Health Care Systems joined 300 others across the country to formally honor the efforts of Vietnam vets. Leaders of VA Maine at Togus held the special ceremony on Tuesday, March 29, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. This ceremony marked the accomplishment of a goal set several years ago by the Obama Administration to appreciate U.S. veterans.
The Vietnam War claimed more than 58,000 American lives. Thousands of others had their lives changed forever, losing friends and coming back to alienated communities. Many Vietnam veterans were denigrated instead of receiving thanks.
According to Togus Director Ryan Lilly, the event was intended to celebrate all men and women who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces from Nov. 1, 1955, to May 15, 1975, including those who did not serve in Vietnam. About 7 million of those who served are still living, with 44,000 Vietnam veterans residing in Maine.
General LePage spoke to those gathered at the Togus ceremony. He mentioned that he was a college student during the war, and he witnessed the “shameful” treatment of veterans on college campuses at the time. “Nobody realized it wasn’t your fault. Your country asked you to go fight a war. And you were scorned, ridiculed and embarrassed when you came home you didn’t dare wear your uniform,” Lepage said.
According to veteran Larry Smith, 69, events such as Tuesday’s can work toward an effective healing process. Smith said, “Anything that can make veterans feel better about themselves and not feel like discards is a good thing.”
All the veterans have agreed, ceremonies like this make a difference. Vietnam vets can expect similar events from the VA through 2025.
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