Vietnam Veterans honored at Kiwanis event Vietnam Veterans honored at Kiwanis event
It was a “welcome home” they never received. Five hundred forty-nine thousand served, 58,350 died, 300,000 were injured, and 1,600 are still missing; our... Vietnam Veterans honored at Kiwanis event

It was a “welcome home” they never received. Five hundred forty-nine thousand served, 58,350 died, 300,000 were injured, and 1,600 are still missing; our Vietnam veterans, fifty-years ago.

Last Wednesday, the Kiwanis Club of Chester gave 177 Chesterfield area Vietnam veterans the welcome home they never got with a “Welcome Home Vietnam Era Veterans Celebration Event.” The event included a formal opening, platform speakers, exhibitors, a picnic, and music. In a dedication of the building in which they gathered,, the Exhibition Hall on the Chesterfield Fairgrounds was renamed the Vietnam Veterans Building, a commitment to the vets never being forgotten. The event gave a long-overdue “welcome home” and “thank you” to the many veterans present.

                     

   

Ad dressing the veterans and their families, young members volunteering from the Thomas Dale High School Key and Keyette clubs, and donors of the event, the keynote speaker, the retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Donald R. Gardner, received a well-deserved standing ovation following his address.

“We commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. The most important people here tonight…are those of you who serve in the Armed Forces during 1955-1975, regardless of location…tonight you received ‘A lasting memento of the nation’s thanks.’ This is your welcome home!” said Gardner.

“The Vietnam War was not a popular one. Veterans who fought there returned to a largely ungrateful nation,” he said. “What we encountered were riots and violence in our major cities. Upon returning home, we were encouraged not to wear our uniforms.”

Gardner shared stories of his two tours, first as a captain in Da Nang and other provinces; an area that was infested with Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese army. They were conducting clandestine reconnaissance patrols along the DMZ, from Dong Ha To Khe Sanh, with frequent contact made with the enemy. His second tour as Major was during the “Vietnamization” of the advisory effort sharing the duties involved in that mission.

“The soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines that I commanded or worked alongside of were all warriors,” he said. “They made sacrifices as great as any made by earlier patriots. Most of their stories will never be known. Like you, they “ran point” on patrol, answered the call of “Corpsman Up,” volunteered as “tunnel rats,” cleared mines as engineers, flew dangerous combat missions, spent years as prisoners of war, built roads and bridges and bases as Seabees, served in isolated locations as advisors and special forces, served on and maintained our mighty ships, shuttled critical supplies, repaired aircraft, trucks, and radios, bound up broken bodies as doctors and nurses, and many gave their lives to save a comrade.”

“Despite fighting a long war that our nation never fully supported, there were unforgettable acts of courage and self-sacrifice by ordinary men and women…you and people like you,” he said. “Wars are not noble but we were blessed with noble warriors. I remain proud of each and every one of our Vietnam veterans. Tonight we honor your service and finally welcome you home!”

Kiwanian Joe Hillier took the leadership role in the club’s effort to thank veterans for their service with dinner and a special program; first with World War II veterans, last year for the Korean Veterans, and the welcome event for the Vietnam veterans.

A veteran himself of the Vietnam War, serving in the Navy from 1966 to 1968, Hillier knew the task would be a difficult one, as well as an important one. He experienced the time period and how veterans did not receive the welcome home they deserved.

He recruited his wife Suzanne for help. They would drive through neighborhoods looking for homes or license plates with signs of a Vietnam veteran. Knocking on doors, spreading the word, and advertising, he found nearing 190 veterans in the area. Efforts were made for donors to support the event. With support of the club, their youth programs, members of the community, and a great platform of speakers, the “welcome home” was a success.

“I am very proud of the turnout and appreciate their great service they gave to their country,” said Hillier. “It’s the Kiwanis Club way of saying thank you 50 years later.”

Otis Royster attended the event with his wife Yvonne. He served in Vietnam as a corporal in the Marines from March, 1970 to February, 1971. Today Royster works with veterans and their health insurance issues through the DAV Chapter in the Newbys Bridge area.

“It is great just a little late,” he said of the welcome home. “So glad to see so many young people here. So many have come up and shook hands and thank me for my service.”

He says there is still a long way to go with the government taking care of its Vietnam veterans. “There are still a lot of vets that still don’t have insurance.”
Eldridge Brock was a master aviator in the army during the war and served two tours, 62 -63 and 67-68. “I am grateful for all the effort that has gone into it [the event],” he said. “Longtime coming, but much appreciated and glad I was fortunate enough to be here.”

Tom Reis served in the Air Force from 1958 to 1968. He attended the event with his wife Laurel. “They [the Kiwanis Club] did an awesome job,” he said. “Over the top. I even got choked up a couple of times.”

Purple Heart recipients, Bill Swineford (Army) and Ron Echols (Marines) both served 1968 -1969. Swineford was very impressed with the welcome home from the Kiwanis Club. “It’s fantastic, above and beyond,” he said.

Swineford was shot three different times. He said his return home was quiet. “My wife and I lived on the base at first, and my dad and grandfather both served,” he said. “We came home to friends. San Francisco was different though. That was not fun.”

Echols was shot twice. He can remember he went three months without a bath and a change of clothes. He was a platoon leader and the time that stays with him the most was when he lost a member of his platoon. “I always think about what I could have done differently to save their lives,” he said.

Many thanks went out to Hillier for his leadership role and success of the event.

“Dr. Hillier was the one to put this all together,” Jamie Moore, club president said. “The veterans finally got the welcome home they deserve and as president, I am honored to be able to honor these amazing veterans.”

Moore also praised the community and donors for the event. “How great this community is,” he said. “When we all come together, we can do some amazing things. I am really thankful for all the sponsors.”

clandestine reconnaissance patrols along the DMZ, from Dong Ha to Khe Sanh, frequent contact made with the enemy. His second tour as Major was during the “Vietnamization” of the advisory effort, sharing the duties involved in that mission.

“The soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines that I commanded or worked alongside of were all warriors,” he said. “They made sacrifices as great as any made by earlier patriots. Most of their stories will never be known. Like you, they ‘ran point’ on patrol, answered the call of ‘Corpsman Up,’ volunteered as ‘tunnel rats,’ cleared mines as engineers; flew dangerous combat missions; spent years as prisoners of war; built roads and bridges and bases as Seabees; served in isolated locations as advisors and special forces’ served on and maintained our mighty ships; shuttled critical supplies; repaired aircraft, trucks, and radios; bound up broken bodies as doctors and nurses; and many gave their lives to save a comrade.

“Despite fighting a long war that our nation never fully supported, there were unforgettable acts of courage and self-sacrifice by ordinary men and women…you and people like you,” he said. “Wars are not noble, but we were blessed with noble warriors. I remain proud of each and every one of our Vietnam veterans.

Tonight we honor your service and finally welcome you home!”
Kiwanian Joe Hillier took the leadership role in the club’s effort to thank veterans for their service with dinner and a special program; first for the World War II veterans, last year for the Korean Veterans, and this year for the Vietnam veterans.

Having served in the Navy from 1966 to 1968 himself, Hillier knew the task would be a difficult one as well as an important one. He experienced the time period and how veterans did not receive the “welcome home” they deserved.

He recruited his wife Suzanne for help. They would drive through neighborhoods looking for homes or license plates with signs of a Vietnam veteran. Knocking on doors, spreading the word, and advertising, he found nearly 190 veterans in the area. Efforts were made for donors to support the event. With the support of the club, their youth programs, members of the community, and a great platform of speakers, the “welcome home” was a success.

“I am very proud of the turnout and appreciate their great service they gave to their country,” said Hillier. “It’s the Kiwanis Club way of saying ‘thank you’ 50 years later.”

Otis Royster attended the event with his wife, Yvonne. He served in Vietnam as a corporal in the Marines from March 1970 to Feb. 1971. Today Royster works with veterans with their health insurance concerns through the Disabled American Veterans Chapter in the Newbys Bridge area.

“It is great; just a little late,” he said of the tribute. “So glad to see so many young people here. So many have come up and shook hands and thank me for my service.”

He says there is still a long way to go with the government taking care of its Vietnam veterans. “There are still a lot of vets that still don’t have insurance.”
Eldridge Brock was a master aviator in the Army during the war and he served two tours, 1962-1963 and 1967-1968. “I am grateful for all the effort that has gone into it [the event],” he said. “Long time coming, but much appreciated, and glad I was fortunate enough to be here.”

Tom Reis served in the Air Force from 1958 to 1968. He attended the event with his wife, Laurel. “They [the Kiwanis Club] did an awesome job,” he said. “Over the top. I even got choked up a couple of times.”

Purple Heart recipients Bill Swineford (Army) and Ron Echols (Marines) both served 1968 -1969. Swineford was very impressed with the “welcome home” from the Kiwanis Club. “It’s fantastic, above and beyond,” he said.

Swineford was shot three different times. He said his return home was quiet. “My wife and I lived on the base at first, and my dad and grandfather both served,” he said. “We came home to friends. San Francisco was different, though. That was not fun.”

Echols was shot twice. He can remember that he went three months without a bath and a change of clothes. He was a platoon leader, and the time that stays with him the most was when he lost a member of his platoon. “I always think about what I could have done differently to save their lives,” he said.

Many thanks went out to Hillier for leadership role and success of the event.

“Dr. Hillier was the one to put this all together,” said club president Jamie Moore. “The veterans finally got the welcome home they deserve, and as president, I

am honored to be able to honor these amazing veterans.”Moore also praised the community and donors for the event. “How great this community is,” he said. “When we all come together, we can do some amazing things. I am really thankful for all the sponsors.”