JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —
Their hair is grayer and their gait is not as spry as it used to be, but there was no slowing down the pride Vietnam War veterans showed during the 50th Anniversary of the Commemoration of the Vietnam War at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery March 27.
Vietnam War-era veterans from all services were honored during the ceremony and the memories of the more than 58,000 Americans who were lost were remembered by the crowd of approximately 200 gathered on a cloudy spring afternoon at the cemetery’s assembly area.
According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, 9 million Americans served during the Vietnam War period and approximately 7 million were still alive as of December 2017.
According to the Vietnam Conflict Extract Data File Analysis System, nearly 500,000 served in Vietnam, with 58,220 U.S. military fatal casualties.
In 2007, the 100th Congress incorporated language in House Resolution 4986 authorizing the Secretary of Defense to conduct a program commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. An inaugural ceremony was held at The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, known as “The Wall,” in Washington, D.C., on Memorial Day, May 28, 2012.
The 50th anniversary commemoration period initiated in 2015 and ending in 2025 directly corresponds to each year between 1965 and 1975, the inclusive dates U.S. combat troops were deployed in Vietnam. The ceremony was one of thousands of events planned for across the nation, and a national event took place March 29 at “The Wall.”
After the posting of the colors by the Fort Sam Houston Memorial Services Detachment and an invocation by Joe Waltz, retired Air Force Col. Ruth Nancarrow welcomed those in attendance and spoke of the experiences of being a woman serving in a war area.
During April 1956, three U.S. Army nurses deploy to Vietnam to help train South Vietnamese military nurses. They were the first U.S. service women to arrive in Vietnam. About 11,000 service women would eventually serve in Vietnam. Eight died while serving their country in Vietnam. Of these eight, seven would be Army nurses.
“When I came back, I would always get asked ‘why would a woman want to go to Vietnam in the middle of a war?’” said Nancarrow, an Air Force nurse. “I would answer that our boys were over there fighting and America needed nurses in Vietnam. Why wouldn’t I go?’”
Guest speaker retired Army Sgt. Maj. Rudy Johnson related that it’s important Americans remember the sacrifices of not only the Vietnam veterans, but of all veterans.
“Your war is just like ours and each one is also unique,” Johnson said of veterans from the most recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. “We need to make sure we remember all veterans. You all paid the price of serving your nation.
Honors were rendered next with a volley fire from the Memorial Services Detachment and the playing of “Taps” by one of the MSD members. Veterans were then asked to come up and receive an official Vietnam lapel pin.
Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Felipe O’Bryan was at the ceremony in full uniform, the creases sharp on his green Army service uniform.
“It’s very important we have ceremonies like this. You see that we are commemorating the veterans of Vietnam here today 50 years after the war. In 10 years, a lot of these people might not be here. It’ll be the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans,” said O’Bryan, who retired 41 years ago and has also served with the Memorial Service Detachment. “But it’s still the same sentiment. It’s still important to remember.”