Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 31, 2014

‘Dignity, courage, honor’

Vietnam Veterans Recognition Day Ceremony packs house

PRINCETON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

By BILL ARCHER — An overflow crowd packed the standing-room-only great hall of the Mercer County War Memorial Building Sunday afternoon to give a long-overdue welcome home to veterans of the Vietnam War during the county’s Vietnam Veterans Recognition Day Ceremony.

Marie Blackwell headed up the committee and welcomed the packed-house audience. Wearing a badge with a photograph of her late husband, Dave Blackwell above her heart, Blackwell became overcome with emotion each time she mentions those soldiers who “made the ultimate sacrifice,” during the war. Dave Blackwell served in Vietnam.

Kimberly Gross, a representative of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin read a proclamation naming March 30, 2014 Vietnam Veterans Recognition Day. “Citizens of West Virginia must never forget,” Gross read from the governor’s proclamation.

Michael Browning read remarks from U.S. Senator Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va. “We are all indebted to these veterans,” Manchin wrote.

U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., said he was humbled to address the veterans, “who served our country with dignity, courage and honor,” Rahall said. “You did your duty. You did your part. It is past time that America did hers,” Rahall said. He noted that after the war, the Vietnam veterans returned home to serve in their communities. “The wall of division, of outright disdain and downright disrespect that met many of you upon your return is a black mark on our nation’s history,” Rahall said. “Even though we have made strides to remove it, we still have a lot of work to do.”

The veterans responded with a strong round of applause when Rahall said that he has introduced a resolution in the House to establish March 30 as Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day. “I will keep introducing such a resolution as long as there is a Vietnam veteran breathing and I have a voice in Congress,” he said.

Delegates John H. Shott, Joe Ellington and Marty Gearheart, all Mercer County Republicans each addressed the audience. Shott shared remarks that former President Ronald Reagan made on the 10th anniversary of the fall of Saigon. “The dawn always, at last, follows the dark,” Shott said quoting Reagan.

Ellington said he was in middle school when the Vietnam veterans came home and he was confused by the disrespectful reception they received. “I’d like to thank you, each of you,” Ellington said. “Let’s not forget what happened there.”

“It is truly humbling for me to be here today,” Gearheart said. “I didn’t, as a young man, have to sleep in the jungle 500 yards away from an enemy that wanted to take my life. You gentlemen are to be honored for answering the call.”

The Montcalm JROTC color guard posted colors for the event. Princeton Mayor Patricia Wilson led the group in the “Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag,” and Pat Whittaker sang the “Star-spangled Banner,” and later in the program, led the audience in singing, “God Bless America.”

Bluefield Assistant City Manager Josh Cline gave closing remarks and Al Hancock, a U.S. Air Force Vietnam War veteran read his poem titled, “The Wall.”

“I thought it was a great ceremony — long overdue,” Bill Blankenship said. Blankenship was drafted into the U.S. Army in April of 1968 and was sent to Vietnam in November of the same year. He served in Vietnam for one year and three days.

“I got discharged after I came back to the states because I had less that 150 days left to serve,” Blankenship said. “I think it is getting better. I think people appreciate us more now than they did at the end of the war.”

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Blackwell invited those in attendance to visit the For Those Who Served Museum and the War Memorial Room on the second floor of the building.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com