GREENBELT – Hundreds of Vietnam veterans and their families gathered at Martin’s Crosswinds on March 30 for the third annual commemoration of their military service. The event, hosted by Hospice of the Chesapeake, was a time for veterans to converse with one another, receive thanks for their often unrecognized sacrifices, and be honored with a […]
GREENBELT – Hundreds of Vietnam veterans and their families gathered at Martin’s Crosswinds on March 30 for the third annual commemoration of their military service.
The event, hosted by Hospice of the Chesapeake, was a time for veterans to converse with one another, receive thanks for their often unrecognized sacrifices, and be honored with a day of remembrance specifically dedicated to them.
On March 29, 1973, the last American troops were withdrawn from the Vietnam conflict and brought home. In remembrance of this day, many states commemorate either March 29 or March 30 as a day of recognition for those veterans. As his first act in office, Gov. Larry Hogan signed a bill in 2015 declaring March 30 “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day” in Maryland.
On behalf of Hogan, Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary George W. Owings, III spoke to the crowd to reaffirm the governor’s declaration. A Vietnam veteran himself, Owings thanked Hospice of the Chesapeake for bringing the crowd together and honored the veterans who “never received their deserved recognition after the war.”
“We (veterans) all signed up to do a job and we did it to the best of our abilities,” Owings said. “Some will never hear the words ‘thank you,’ but they’re just as deserving, those who are gone, as those of us who are still here.”
The theme of the night was Warriors Remembered, and much like Owings, many of the speakers focused on the veterans’ physical, emotional and psychological wounds that were never healed or addressed due to the controversy surrounding the war. Frequently throughout the night, speakers called on the crowd to reach out to other veterans who were struggling and to encourage them to seek help through the hospice.
In 2010, Hospice of the Chesapeake joined an initiative with other hospices around the country called the Veterans National Movement, which sought to honor war veterans as they reached the end of their lives.
“This national partnership was primarily designed to honor the sacrifices of veterans and offer them a unique platform for healing; healing those wounds that might not have ever been healed,” said Ben Marcantonio, president and chief executive officer of Hospice of the Chesapeake. “Please share your experiences tonight and encourage your fellow veterans to reach out to local hospices and seek the support and care they so richly deserve.”
Throughout the night, several tributes were offered, not only to the veterans in attendance, but also to those who could not attend or had passed away. A candle was lit at the beginning of the event “in memory of all those who were lost” and a moment of silence was observed during which the veterans and their families were allowed to remember the names of the service members who died.
“It was an amazing event. It really feels good to be told thank you and to be welcomed home,” said Vietnam veteran Leo Norman, who had been invited by a friend. “This was my first year coming and I’ll keep coming as long as (Hospice of the Chesapeake) keeps having us.”
Norman said the great amount of care and detail put into making the event respectful, as well as the presence of distinguished government, military and celebrity figures, truly made him feel honored.
One major highlight of the evening was a speech given by Baltimore Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh, a staunch advocate of the U.S. Military and the 2013 recipient of the Salute to Service Award for his efforts to honor and support veterans. In a lighthearted and comical speech, Harbaugh described his experience traveling overseas to Camp Victory in 2009 with several other NFL coaches and being given the opportunity to see how service members lived while deployed in Iraq.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you for what you have done. There is no greater call in a fallen world than to serve and defend your fellow citizens,” Harbaugh said, eliciting a round of applause. “My first memories are about the (Vietnam) war going on and the controversy around it and the amazing men and women who served in it.”
Harbaugh applauded the veterans for their service and reiterated how honorable they had been. Throughout his story, he noted several times that his brief visit overseas could not compare to the challenges veterans faced when going off to war or when returning home.
Vietnam veteran Cyprian Jenifer, who attended the annual event for the third time, said he felt moved by the speakers’ passion and that the celebration allowed him to finally feel some pride about his military service after so many years.
“The way we were treated when we came back from Vietnam was terrible. It wasn’t like that for other veterans, we were treated so horribly,” Jenifer recalled. “We didn’t choose the war. We were called on to serve and we answered that call, so we didn’t deserve the anger and hate that so many people had for us.”
Despite the painful memories, Jenifer, like many other veterans, felt the event gave the closure they’d deserved many years ago when returning home from Vietnam. The celebration gave many veterans a chance to truly feel proud and honored for their service.
Although it was the first time for some and the third time for others, each veteran was finally told “thank you” and “welcome home.”