U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Maj. Eric Lobsinger, Army North PAO
Story by Staff Sgt. Corey Baltos
Army North PAO
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas — The Soldiers and civilians of Fort Sam Houston, along with San Antonio community members, came together Nov. 7 to welcome home Vietnam Veterans and thank them for their service during the Fort Sam Houston “Vietnam Veterans’ 50th Anniversary Welcome Home Ceremony.”
When the veterans and their families arrived at Staff Post Parade Field, they were welcomed by a sight that brought a sense of déjà vu – a military ceremony; the ceremony was unique however in that it was in their honor, for their service, dating back to a time a half century ago and that continues through today.
For the Soldiers on hand, the opportunity to show their respects to their brothers and sisters from another generation held a special meaning. For many, they share a life experience with a parent – the experience of having served in a war zone.
Many of the current Soldiers spoke of their experiences upon returning home from deployments. For them, their welcome was to supportive communities, filled with cheers and fanfare. For many of the Vietnam Veterans, however, their experiences were a stark contrast.
“I was solely focused on getting out of the Army,” said Eric Strand, a Vietnam veteran whose daughter has since deployed to combat zones. “I didn’t want to talk about it – and neither did my friends, so I was cool with that.”
Try as he may, Eric said he could not forget the experience; it was a part of him. Like his fellow veterans his experience made him into the man he is today.
As a nation, it is important to remember the sacrifices of the men and women who served their nation in Vietnam and the hardships they faced when they returned home.
“Our Vietnam Veterans have a slogan: ‘Never again shall one generation of veterans abandon another.’” said Lt. Gen. William Caldwell IV, commanding general of U.S. Army North (Fifth Army) and senior commander of Fort Sam Houston and Camp Bullis. “They have taken this message to heart, whether it be welcoming our men and women home after a tour in Iraq or Afghanistan, or by just simply being a great mentor for our newest generation of veterans.
“These Vietnam veterans have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with us. So today, the Army team at Fort Sam Houston, along with the San Antonio community, will embrace that slogan – that we, too, have not forgotten.”
The ceremony held special meaning for many of the veterans, who said they appreciated the fact their fellow service members and community members came together and expressed their gratitude for their service.
“I was in the Army for 20 years,” said Steve Zavala, who was drafted into the Army toward the end of the Vietnam War. “I served in Operation Just Cause, Desert Storm and throughout the Cold War. This is the first time I have been welcomed home.”
Zavala is now a civilian employee at Army North’s Network Enterprise Center.
The Vietnam War was a long, hard-fought war. American troops first set foot in Vietnam on Nov. 1, 1955 when the U.S. sent in military advisors. Our forces finally left Vietnam nearly 20 years later with the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975.
For many of the veterans, the ceremony provided a chance to heal.
“When I returned home in 1971, I was met with hostility,” said Carl Bierschwale, who served with the 20th Engineer Brigade in the Iron Triangle, located in the Bing Duong Province. “Even people at my church looked down on me. What we did over there is still with us, and little things can bring it all back.”
This ceremony, he said, helps with the healing process.
"I wish I could find the right feelings, said retired Maj. Gen. Patrick Brady, a Medal of Honor recipient and Vietnam veteran, who served as the guest of honor. “Our American veterans have nobility. Vietnam vets are the real peace demonstrators – no one could do anymore for peace.
“We appreciate deeply what you are doing for us."
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