Area Vietnam veterans, family and friends shared a special bond in person on Saturday in a way they hadn’t since the pandemic started.
An estimated 160 people gathered for the annual Vietnam Veterans Day of Remembrance at the Grimes-Kohl VFW Post 1031 to recognize those who answered the call to serve and commemorate those who made the ultimate sacrifice. March 29 marks the day American troops withdrew from Vietnam in 1973.
Tributes, memories, updates, acknowledgements and a keynote speaker were part of the ceremony. It was originally meant to be outdoors at the shelter house but inclement weather brought things indoors.
“This is for the men and women who served our country in a very tumultuous time. Your service is not forgotten,” Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient Randy Ark, one of the event’s organizers, told attendees in opening remarks.
Activities began with the posting of colors and U.S. Navy veteran Jim Campbell presented the invocation. A new addition this year was a presentation of a wreath dedicated to Vietnam veterans by the Lagonda Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution that was placed on the lectern.
“We love our country, our history and most of all our veterans. We call them patriots and we love our patriots,” said Jackie Brown, who spoke for the DAR.
Giving updates were Brad Boyer of the National Trail Parks and Recreation District, who talked about the ongoing work being done to the Clark County Veterans Memorial Park, and Jim Ryan of Veterans Service Commission, who spoke on services available for veterans.
Ark touched on coming back from Vietnam to a sometimes unfriendly reaction and the importance of being surrounded by people who had similar experiences. He always tries to acknowledge other veterans and always appreciates when he is acknowledged.
Keynote speaker Dr. James Thomas Hardy, chief of staff at the Dayton VA Health Care, spoke about the common bonds Vietnam veterans share, mentioning that many of those who served became Vietnam veterans by accident, including himself.
Hardy joined the Army ROTC as a college freshman. What seemed like a good idea would land him in Vietnam four years later as an adviser to an infantry unit, a prospect he admitted was frightening for a 23-year-old hearing various stories coming out from there.
“In 1962 I had no idea of Vietnam, and four years later, everybody did,” he said.
Attendees were absorbed by Hardy’s story of being stationed at a village for relocated Vietnamese citizens and the decisions he faced with Viet Cong being prominent in the area, and conferring with a sergeant about the best course of action, a man he credits for saving his life and wonders about his fate to this day.
Hardy served 18 months in Vietnam and as an Army Ranger, putting in 20 years of service. He attended medical school in 1976 and is proud to continue his work at the Dayton VA and speak at events such as this.
“I’ve had two lives as a Vietnam veteran — in combat and now as a physician,” he said. “This is the best service I’ve ever had, taking care of veterans.”
Hardy earned a standing ovation from attendees after thanking his fellow veterans for their service.
The ceremony closed with the acknowledgement of each service branch, a 21-gun salute and the playing of “Taps.”
Ark said it meant a lot to the attendees to have this event again and doing so in person made it even more special.
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