For William G. Bennett, it's never to late to receive a thank you.
Bennett, originally from Burlington, Kansas, returned from 18 months in Vietnam to a nation unhappy with his service in the war.
Things were different on Friday, March 30, as members of the American Legion Post 195 in Jay gathered to host the first of several recognition events in 2018.
"It's late, but it's better than not having it," Bennett said. "When I got out of the service and came home, nobody would recognize me. Even if i was in uniform, they didn't say anything."
On Friday, Bennett was one of several Vietnam veterans to receive
About the effort
Members of the American Legion Post 195, led in part by Robert Lawson, began working with the federal government last year, to find an honor those who served in the 20-year span of the Vietnam War.
“It doesn’t matter where in the world you served. If you were in anytime during that period, you are officially a Vietnam veteran," Lawson said. “That would have included about 9 million people.
"There are an estimated 7.2 million still living today, and that’s whom we are reaching out for with events like this one. I hope each of them will receive a pin.”
Each eligible Vietnam War veteran who attends one of the ceremonies, sponsored by the legion members, receive a lapel pin, handshake and a thank you for their service “from a grateful nation.”
Family members of the veterans are also invited to attend the event.
“Vietnam veterans didn’t say much about their service to friends and family,” Lawson said. “This conflict was so unlike any other conflict that America ever had to deal with.
"There was no front line in this war. Many veterans had difficulties when they returned home, and had very little help dealing and coping with issues. Some just couldn’t talk about their experiences publicly for several years after returning to the United States, and some were forgotten about.”
Stanley Bennett attended the ceremony with his father. A member of the Army National Guard, Stanley Bennett served in Iraq from 2004 to 2005.
"When I came back, people were welcoming," Stanley Bennett said. "When I hear how Vietnam Veterans were treated, it's nice to finally get around to show them the respect they deserved."
Vietnam Veterans Day
Last week's Delaware County event closely coincides with Vietnam Veterans Day, which is celebrated annually on March 29.
The commemoration was created for the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War to recognize veterans who served from Nov. 1, 1955, to May 15, 1975 - regardless of the location.
The 2008 National Defense Authorization Act authorized a program to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War to highlight and honor the services of the United States Armed Forces.
The commemoration began with an inaugural event at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., on Memorial Day in 2008, and will conclude on Veterans Day in 2025, according to a presidential proclamation.
United States involvement in Vietnam started slowly with an initial deployment of advisors in the 1950s, with an expanded deployment of full combat units in July 1965.
The last U.S. personnel were evacuated from Vietnam on April 30, 1975.
The local event is made possible in part by the United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration and hosted by members of the American Legion Post 195 in Jay.
“It’s a very satisfying thing, Lawson said. "People are telling us that this is a great thing being done for our veterans.”
More information about the national event, persons interested may visit www.vietnamwar50th.com.
For more information about the efforts to honor Vietnam Veterans, persons interested may contact Lawson at 918-253-6044.
Honoring the surviving spouses of Vietnam Veterans
The Jay American Legion Post 195's efforts to recognize Vietnam Veterans will span a three year period from 2017 to 2019.
This year, in addition to honoring living veterans, the post plans to begin an initiative recognizing the surviving spouses of veterans unable to receive the service pin.
Robert Lawson is working to collect names of surviving spouses, along with their information, in advance of a ceremony slated to take place later this year.
For more information about the efforts to honor the surviving spouses of deceased Vietnam Veterans, persons interested may contact Lawson at 918-253-6044.