Good afternoon. It is fitting that the Vietnam Veterans Recognition Day ceremonies are held here at Fort Taber-Fort Rodman Historical Association at the New Bedford Military Museum. I believe that square inch per square inch, this is the greatest community Military Museum in the United States of America. This Museum is a sacred place. It contains the personal effects of many of our families’ loved ones. It tells the stories and sacrifices of our moms and dads, sons and daughters and friends and neighbors – picture by picture, artifact by artifact- uniform by uniform, and medal by medal. This Museum is a living memorial to the brave young men and woman who have served under the colors of America – since the founding of our country, and the establishment of our City.
This building is not simply a real estate asset of the City of New Bedford. It is the people’s building. It is a treasure which displays and personifies the patriotic spirit of the people of our City. We have all boasted about the extraordinary patriotism of our City. This Museum proves our claim. Please be assured this is no outcry or support among our fellow citizens to charge the Fort Taber-Fort Rodman Historical Association for the use of this building, or for the use of the Fort, or this public park. There will never be an admission fee to come here to honor our veterans. The non-profit, all volunteer, Fort Taber-Fort Rodman Historical Association is the caretaker of our Patriots’ stories. The events that the Association hosts on behalf of our City are educational in nature, they contribute to the historic life blood of our City and enhance the City’s positive reputation. Love of family and country are on display in this building every day. New Bedford’s future generations need to understand who came before, and what is expected of them. Let us all allow the Association and its affiliated veteran organizations to do their work without financial pressures being placed upon them. I don’t believe that the positive energy which surrounds this Museum should be expended, explaining and justifying the purpose and the contributions this Museum makes to the City and Region. Rather than assess fees, our citizens express their sincere gratitude to the members of the Fort’s Historical Association for volunteering their time and efforts in the name of our men and women’s military service to our country. I believe this Museum is as important to our City and Region as our world renowned library system. Let’s move away from the short sighted monetary demands being placed on this Museum. Thank you for all you do to support this Museum.
I sincerely appreciate the invitation from Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 499 to share my thoughts with you, on the 43rd observance of Vietnam Veterans’ Recognition Day. A year after the last United States troops were withdrawn from Vietnam, President Richard Nixon declared March 29, 1974 Vietnam Veterans’ Recognition Day. The United States Combat involvement in the Vietnam War frames an important period in American History. Spanning from the early 1960’s (Jan. 12, 1962) to the mid 1970’s (March 29, 1973) the Vietnam War years were a turbulent time in America. Dissent over the war rocked the very foundation of America’s society and democracy. But the Vietnam War’s effect on our countries politics, culture and foreign policy continues to resonate through today.
The citizens of America learned a sorrowful lesson in placing blind trust in our leaders, and our government, and as a result, our people became cynical and divided on many issues and levels. Clearly, the dissent focused on the war and America’s purpose in Southeast Asia and our place in the world. Due to America’s divisions, the men and women who served our country during this time were blamed for America’s policies and were not given the respect or recognition that they deserved for having sacrificed for their country.
Today, we again look to right this terrible wrong. The facts and statistics regarding our war efforts are cast in black and white. The number of American military personnel who served in Vietnam was approximately 2,700,000 individuals. Tragically, the names of the men and women killed in the war are etched in a black granite wall. There are 58,307 names on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., Add to those names, approximately 304,000 men and woman who were wounded in the war, and recognize that over 75,000 of those who were wounded returned from Vietnam totally disabled. We then sadly acknowledge that at this time there are still over 1,562 American servicemen and women Missing In Action. Many of those who returned home and who were not physically wounded, continue to suffer from the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, various other psychological issues, and from the toxic effects of Agent Orange and other chemicals. It is important to emphasize that those who did return home amalgamated back into society, most not easily, and some with profound difficulties, but each who returned home has achieved a measure of greatness in their own way, in every field imaginable. They are productive, contributing members of their families and communities. We live and work with them every day, and they help make America the greatest country on earth.
Each day, we all should recognize the great generation of men and woman who served our country during the Vietnam War. I know that Tom Brokaw when he wrote his book about Depression Era, and World War II ERA Americans, used the title, and coined the phrase, “The Greatest Generation.” He defined the “greatest generation” as one that took personal responsibility, believed in and exhibited duty, honor and faith towards their families, and their country. He wrote that every stage of their lives were intersected by historic challenges and achievements of a magnitude that the world had never before witnessed. Our grandparents and our mothers and fathers were part of this generation. We knew them well, and I do believe that they would agree today that the men and woman who served the United States during the Vietnam War era fall within Tom Brokaw’s definition of greatness.
The intensity of the battlefield, the required valor on the battlefield, is the same whether an American military member fought at Bunker Hill, Antietam, San Juan Hill, The Western Front, Normady, Pork Chop Hill, Ke Sanh, The Kuwait Airport, Fallujah, Kamdesh, Yemen or Syria. Any man or woman who saw action in Vietnam or any man or woman stationed in the Vietnam theater who supported our troops, matched the great determination and patriotism of any soldier who wore the uniform of the United States in prior wars. The silence and the hole left in our society when a soldier falls is the same regardless of the generation. The Gold Star families’ sorrow and grief is identical and inseparable whether the family’s loss occurred in 1776, 1864, 1918, 1943, 1965, 1990, 2001, 2007 or 2017.
For the family, friends and loved ones of those who have given their lives for our freedoms, the emptiness in the heart, the hollowness of the soul, has always been the same. The greatness of a generation is defined by the people who are represented by stark facts, and cold statistics, irrespective of the era that Americans are called upon to serve. It never matters whether the leaders of our generation have a defined objective, an obtainable mission, a plan for victory, or a vision for success. The only thing that is significant, the only fact that matters, has always been that young men and woman give their all in the sacrifice for their fellow countrymen. Vietnam Veterans certainly meet the definition for “greatness” when measured against this criteria.
History shows that the American government did not have clear objectives in fighting the Vietnam War. We have heard the government’s explanations regarding “domino theories” and our need to contain the spread of “communism”, but we never heard a plan to win the war. The men and woman who served, however, had a clear objective every day, that was to represent the interests of the United States and carry out their missions, as ordered. They fulfilled their missions, they carried out their orders.
However, when our men and woman returned home, our society was in an upheaval. Our young sons and daughters in many cases, bore the brunt of the citizens’ dissatisfaction with the U.S. Government. The contemptuous attitude toward our troops was a national disgrace. Thankfully, over the past 5 decades, our citizens have realized that our Vietnam Veterans had earned and deserved a grateful nation’s welcome upon returning to America. Also, over the past 5 decades, The Vietnam Veterans, have realized the United States governments failed policy and strategies in foreign affairs should not and will never again define the efforts and commitment to duty by the sworn members of the United States Military. Over these 5 decades, they have fought for respect for all veterans and they have taught the citizens of America a valuable lesson in patriotism.
Today as a result of the Vietnam Veterans of Americas, efforts on behalf of all veterans, our veterans are honored and valued by our citizens. As a result of the advocacy by the Vietnam Vets of America, veteran issues regarding health care, housing, VA loans, disability benefits, education and vocational training, job placement, VA Hospital medical quality, psychological care, and VA pensions are all issues at the forefront of recognition, debate and resolution. While perhaps late in coming, America has learned a valuable lesson in patriotism and its obligation to our veterans, and specifically each and every day the sun rises over our country, our citizens welcome home all Vietnam Veterans.
In closing, we express our admiration to the men and woman who comprise another chapter in America’s “greatest generation.”