At Army installations all over the country, the day ends with the sounding of “Retreat”, the firing of a cannon, and the playing of “To the Colors” as the national flag is lowered. Soldiers stand at attention (or at “Parade Rest” if in formation) during the first part of this brief ceremony and then salute the colors as they are lowered. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve done this in my career. Yesterday was the first time that I think it brought a tear to my eye, as I stood in a sea of Vietnam veterans at Fort Sam Houston’s “Vietnam Veterans’ 50th Anniversary Welcome Home.”
Around me were several hundred gray-headed men and women, some in dress-shirts and ties, some in old uniforms, some with veteran-themed ball caps, and even some in native American dress, all saluting side-by-side with the active-duty Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who had come to honor them. It’s hard to imagine the Vietnam era generation is now in its sixties. I felt a great deal of solidarity with my older brothers and sisters in arms as we saluted the colors together.
After the formal ceremony ended, the veterans followed the colors and the band in a procession through the “Corridor of Thanks,” a quarter-mile of well-wishers that lined both sides of the street. As the veterans filed past, I applauded and offered my thanks and God’s blessings. A great many of the veterans returned the favor, stopping to shake hands and thank the current generation of service members. Most of the veterans were still strong and vigorous, while a few now needed assistance just making the quarter mile trek from the ceremony to the reception. A few stopped to show me pictures from the era. I was particularly touched by a photo of a military working dog that had been the Soldier’s constant companion in Vietnam.
Thank you for your loyalty and faithfulness
In a tough fight
In a tough place
In a tough time to be a Soldier
God’s grace be with you.
Over two-and-a-half million Soldiers, Marines, airmen and Marines served in Vietnam during the course of the conflict. More than fifty-eight thousand died. The Vietnam era draft ended in early 1973, just before I graduated from high school.
U.S. Army North hosted the outstanding “Welcome Home” ceremony for our Vietnam veterans. It was an honor to be in the company of these great men and women.
Official US Army North photos