By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (July 17, 2016) -- A day before retired Lt. Col. Charles Kettles was scheduled to go to the White House to receive the Medal of Honor, he and seven of his comrades from his time in Vietnam were recognized here for their service with the presentation of a commemorative pin by the director of the United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration on Sunday, July 17.
The pin features an eagle and American flag on the front, with six stars that represent the United States and the five other nations that helped during the conflict, including Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea and Thailand. On the reverse side of the pin are the words "A grateful nation thanks and honors you -- USA Vietnam War Commemoration."
The pin is "a small token," said now-retired Maj. Gen. Jim Jackson, who serves as director of the commemoration. It's presented "on behalf of the government and on behalf of the country."
The United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration kicked off Memorial Day 2012 and runs through Veterans Day 2025. It is meant to recognize, thank and honor U.S. military veterans who served during the Vietnam War. Veterans who served on active duty in the U.S. armed forces at any time during the period between Nov. 1, 1955 and May 15, 1975 are eligible to receive the pin.
So far, Jackson said, some 850,000 pins have been handed out, not just by the commission, but also by partner organizations around the country that now number around 10,000. Jackson said there are about 7 million living veterans who served during Vietnam. He said he knows he won't be able to thank them all, but he wants to.
"There are a whole lot who will not participate," he said. "And we are losing 380 a day. When you calculate that out, my gut tells me if I can get between 4 to 5 million veterans, and give them a pin, we're probably going to get all that we're going to get. But I'd like to pass out 7 million."
In addition to Charles Kettles, seven other Vietnam veterans where honored by the commission. Included were Matt McGuire, Don Long, Ron Roy, Dewey Smith, John Osborne, Roland Scheck and Patrick Cleary. All were either involved with or affected by Kettles' actions May 15, 1967, which ultimately earned him the Medal of Honor.
Jackson told the veterans that America thanks them not only for their service during the Vietnam War, but also for what they did after the war: they returned to the United States and either became productive citizens who contributed to their nation, or they stayed on in the Army and contributed to its betterment.
"When you all came home, those of you who stayed in the service, and many did, you went on to rebuild the military," Jackson said. "What I try to tell veterans when I talk to them is that all the goodness you see in the U.S. military today is a direct impact of what the Vietnam veterans did when they came home to restructure, rebuild, reorganize, and re-arm the military; to build new standards, develop new training programs, and put that in place. The junior people who came home actually made that happen."
The United States has already done a commemoration for World War II and for Korea, Jackson said. Now is the time for the nation to recognize the service of those who served in Vietnam.
"It's important for a variety of reasons," he said. "One, there is a requirement in our country to continue the recognition of service to our country. It started back in the 1700s and has continued to today. We don't want a break in that. We think service to the country is worth recognizing."
Additionally, he said, service members returning from Vietnam never got the kind of recognition for their service that is common today. Recognition is long overdue, he said.
"Fifty years ago when these guys came home, they were not afforded the welcome we see today. These people did the country's bidding; they did what the country asked them to do. None of them purchased their own cruise ship to go to Vietnam. They went on behalf of the country, they did what they were told to do, and they deserve that recognition."
The United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration was commissioned by Congress. Its primary objective is to thank and honor Vietnam veterans and their families for their service and sacrifice.
Additionally, Congress asked the commission to highlight the service of America's armed forces and support organizations during the war, recognize the wartime contributions of citizens back at home, highlight the technological and medical advancements made during the war, and recognize America's allies.