In a day marked by gratitude and camaraderie, as well as reflection and sorrow, Rose Hills Memorial Park and Mortuary in Whittier once again honored the service and sacrifices of Vietnam War veterans Sunday, March 20, ahead of Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day later this month.
Veterans from all military branches and their loved ones gathered at Rose Hills to pay tribute to the millions of Americans those who gave some, or all, in the name of the Unites States of America during the war.
Live bands entertained the guests on the lawn of the memorial park as they strolled through a classic car show and perused dozens of resource booths set up by veterans’ organizations and businesses.
The Knights of Columbus barbecued hamburgers and hot dogs. For the first time, the South Vietnamese Navy Veterans of America took part in the event, displaying hand-carved models of South Vietnamese warships.
But following the festive afternoon, guests gathered inside the Memorial Chapel for a memorial service for Vietnam veterans, and particularly, the tens of thousands of homeless veterans throughout the nation who have not received the honorable farewell “that every veteran deserves, but, unfortunately, many have to forego,” Rose Hills officials said in a written statement.
“If we’ve reached one veteran and made a difference in his life, then this whole event is worth it,” Rose Hills Executive Director of Business Development Bruce Lazenby said.
Members of the Patriot Riders from each branch of the military placed a wreath at the front of the chapel in honor of their respective branches of service, followed by traditional military honors such as a volley of rifle fire provided by the California State Honor Guard, a flag-folding ceremony and Taps.
• Photos: Vietnam veterans honored at Rose Hills in Whittier
Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jerry W. Pearce addressed the veterans as keynote speaker, along with Richard Botkin, author of “Ride the Thunder — A Vietnam War Story of Honor and Triumph.”
“I’m happy to say welcome home. Job well done. You have so much to be proud of,” he told the assembled veterans.
“When you came home, you were disregarded when you should have been celebrated. It was a national shame, a disgrace that should have never happened. And we should all resolve that it will never happen again,” he said. “Although some Americans turned their backs on you, you never turned you back on America.”
“You served with just as much patriotism and honor as any before you,” Pearce said. “You persevered through some of the most brutal conditions every faced by Americans in war.”
In light of that brave and selfless service, Pearce said the issue of homeless military veterans remains a serious problem requiring the nation’s attention with more than 50,000 veterans homeless in the U.S. on any given night. More than 6,000 homeless veterans are in the Los Angeles area snd the largest group of homeless veterans are those who served in Vietnam.
Despite the unparalleled challenges faced by Vietnam veterans, Pearce commended them on their determination to look out for not only one another, but all military veterans.
“We have an obligation to out current generation of veterans to not repeat the mistakes of the past,” Pearce said.
Pico Rivera City Councilman Bob Archuleta — a veteran himself, as well as a father of two active duty military members, a longtime Los Angeles County Commissioner of Military Veteran’s Affairs and a presidential appointee to the Board of Visitors to the United States Military Academy at West Point — served as master of ceremonies.
Whittier is the birthplace of Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.
After years of work, including a nation-wide bike ride, spearheaded by Vietnam veteran Jose Ramos of Whittier, March 30 has been officially recognized in California as Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day since signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009.
Thirty-eight states and Puerto Rico have since joined in the gesture, and the U.S. Senate in 2011 formally recognized Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.
Ramos is planning a large Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day event from 11 p.m. to 6 p.m. on April 3 at Sierra Vista High School, 9401 Painter Ave. in Whittier.
Original story by Brian Day.