Wearing a vest covered in military-related patches including one stating “I know I’ll go to heaven ’cause I’ve served my time in hell” next to an outline of Vietnam, Stephen York sat at a picnic table and took in the ceremony honoring local veterans who served during the Vietnam War.
“It means a lot,” York said of last week’s program in a pavilion at Brookfield Zoo commemorating the 50th anniversary of the war. “When we came home we didn’t get embraced. They spit on our clothes. We were dishonored.”
York of Chicago’s North Side served with the U.S. Army’s 196th Light Infantry Brigade during the Vietnam War. He and the other veterans in attendance at Thursday’s event received a certificate of appreciation and a lapel pin inscribed with the words, “A grateful nation thanks and honors you.”
York said for soldiers, many of whom didn’t want to be at war in a foreign land, to be treated like they were when they returned home was shameful.
“We won every fight over there that we entered into,” said York, who also took part in the 1986 parade in downtown Chicago welcoming home our country’s Vietnam veterans.
York, who went to war six times when serving our country, said M-80s and other powerful explosives, cause him to flash back to war scenes. He said his post-traumatic stress disorder requires him to wear headphones at times to muffle loud noises.
Matthew Nixon Caston, 72, of South Holland, said he did not even want to wear his military attire when he returned home from Vietnam.
“I did not wear my uniform at all when I got back,” he said. “If people saw you in uniform, they would spit on you or yell at you.”
Nixon Caston said things have certainly changed in 50 years, noting the ceremony was a nice tribute to our country’s Vietnam veterans.
“If someone had to guess 50 years ago that something like this would take place, it would have seemed hard to believe,” said Nixon Caston, a Mississippi native who moved to Chicago 30 years ago.
Betty Spencer of Franklin Park attended the event in tribute to her husband, William, an Army veteran of the Vietnam War, who died last fall.
“I am here for him,” she said of her attendance at the event.
When hats from the five branches of the service were put on an empty table representing prisoners of war and missing in action from the Vietnam War, Spencer became emotional and had to wipe tears from her eyes.
Spencer said her husband had friends who never returned from Vietnam and were listed as prisoners of war or missing in action.
“I’m so happy I came,” said Spencer, who remains part of the Women’s Auxiliary at the Franklin Park American Legion post.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle was one of the many elected officials on hand to recognize the hundreds of Vietnam War-era veterans in attendance for their sacrifice and service to the nation.
“Those who fought and served with honor during the Vietnam era deserve our gratitude and respect for answering the nation’s call to duty,” Preckwinkle said. “We are indebted to you and your families for your service and your courage, your honor and your dedication to our nation.”
Other officials in attendance included Cook County Commissioner Jeff Tobolski, chairman of the County Board’s Veterans Committee, and representatives of veterans organizations.
“As chairman of the board’s Veterans Committee, I am incredibly honored to host this recognition ceremony in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War,” Tobolski said. “We reflect and show appreciation to the men and women who served during the Vietnam War. Thank you for your service.”
Harry Sawyer of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs said the Vietnam War and its aftermath were “one of the worst chapters” in our country’s history.
“We were burdened with a war we didn’t want and that we should have never been cajoled into fighting,” the Navy veteran of the Vietnam War said. “Then our military came home and they were degraded.”
—- Vietnam veterans acknowledged on 50th anniversary of war —-