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Guest column

Keeping faith with Vietnam veterans

Today, all across America, we’re coming together to remember our men and women in uniform who gave their lives so that we could live free.  In town squares and national cemeteries, in moments of quiet reflection and parades down city streets, we’ll pay tribute to all those who gave the last full measure of their devotion, from Lexington and Concord to Iraq and Afghanistan.

This Memorial Day also holds special significance because it marks the beginning of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. It was 50 years ago — January 1962 — when U.S. Army pilots on dozens of helicopters transported South Vietnamese troops into the jungles outside Saigon for a raid against enemy forces. It was one of America’s first major operations in Vietnam and another turning point in what would become one of our longest wars.

Today at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., I’ll join Vietnam veterans and their families for a ceremony to begin this 50th anniversary. It will be an occasion to honor the 58,282 names on The Wall—men and women who gave their lives in that war. We’ll stand with their families, who have borne that loss ever since. And we’ll reaffirm our commitment to never stop searching for the 1,666 service members who are still missing from that war.   

After Vietnam, our veterans didn’t always receive the respect and thanks they deserved. At times they were neglected and even shunned, which was a national shame. We’ve pledged many times since Vietnam that we would never let that happen again, and that we would give our veterans, especially our Vietnam Veterans, the respect and honor they deserve. This 50th anniversary is our opportunity to do it right.

We’re calling on all Americans to join us in honoring and supporting our extraordinary Vietnam veterans who are among the more than three million Americans who served in that war. There are so many ways to show our appreciation to these veterans and their families, and many of them are available at www.vietnamwar50th.com.

As this anniversary proceeds we will also continue working to ensure that our Vietnam Veterans– and all veterans – receive the services, respect, and support they have earned.  Our efforts on behalf of Vietnam veterans are part of our larger effort to make sure our nation is serving all our veterans as well as they served us. And because no veteran who fights for our nation overseas should have to fight for a job when they come home, this country has made it a priority for businesses to hire veterans and provided resources that make it easier for veterans to find a job.

Supporting and honoring our veterans and their families can’t be the work of government and our businesses alone. That’s why the First Lady and the Vice President’s wife, Dr. Jill Biden, are leading a national effort, Joining Forces, to mobilize Americans in supporting today’s military families and veterans. Only about one percent of Americans may wear the uniform, but 100 percent of Americans need to be supporting those who do.

This Memorial Day, let’s remember all those who’ve put on the uniform, served far from home, and laid down their lives so we can live ours in security and freedom. And let’s take this opportunity to truly honor and support all those who served and sacrificed in Vietnam.  That’s what we’ll be doing when we gather today at The Wall, and that’s what we can all do together in the months and years ahead.

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