NEBRASKA CITY – Thirty Vietnam Veterans were thanked and honored with special recognition at a Nebraska City ceremony Friday on National Vietnam War Veterans Day.
Veteran Service Officer Chad Miller and Mayor Bryan Bequette led a pinning ceremony for each veteran who had served between November of 1955 and May of 1975.
Miller said when Vietnam War veterans returned to US soil they were not always well-received. Many were told not to wear their uniforms to avoid backlash from civilian sources.
Miller: “Whatever the reason, it is important that you Vietnam Veterans and their families understand the prominent place you now occupy in the conscience of our nation.”
Mayor Bequette also thanked Ted Beilman, who passed this spring, for spearheading the military tribute that revived the purpose of the Veterans Memorial Building and offered his personal thank you to Vietnam veterans for giving America the military he inherited when he joined the Armed Forces in the 1980s.
Bequette: “It was the veterans of you all – 55 to 75 – that took the hard knocks, learned how to go ahead and move into the future and it was your action that rebuilt the military and the department of defense into the defense department that it became in the 1980s that we could, instead of fighting proxy wars in Korea and Vietnam, we could basically look the communist countries eye to eye and say, ‘look, it’s going to be peace through strength from here on out.”
The featured speaker was volunteer paratrooper Thomas Rother. He enlisted in the Army in 1963 and specialized in crypto decoding.
He described some of his experiences as a squad leader at the “listening post” among the “Nomads of Vietnam” because they did not have a base camp.
Rother: “Vietnam, it was a rough country. You boys that were there, you guys that were there, you know what it was like.”
Rother described the fighting mood when U.S. military arrived and how it changed to a fight for survival for many on supply lines before the war ended. Overlooking the group of veterans who had assembled, Rother said he served with them and he knows they were tough boys. He said politicians were to blame.
Rother: “We even reached a point where sometimes they would tell us don’t load your weapons until you see the enemy. That’s how ridiculous it was getting in ’66, so some of you guys that were there later can understand.”
He described the difficulty in training South Vietnamese units, but credited the Koreans and Australians.
Rother: “We went with Aussies on patrol. They were good soldiers. They were quiet and they were dangerous. They were good. They knew what we were there for. Honestly, we were there to find the enemy and to kill him. That was it. I was 20. I turned 21 in Vietnam. I was a volunteer and that’s what I wanted to do.
“But I found out that war wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. Because when you took out an enemy soldier and you started going through their belongings, you took a picture out that had a woman and one or two kids maybe or three – I don’t know if that was their family, what would you assume?
“That was tough. But the next day, you’re moving through the jungle and boom. You just lost one of your men. That changes your attitude too. War is hell.”
Blue Star Mothers presented Billy Knickman and Bill Olmer with quilts of valor.
Knickman’s enlistment began in 1966. He served in the First Calvary Division Air Mobile Unit. He was awarded three Vietnam campaign ribbons and the Army commendation medal.
Olmer also began service in 1966. He received the rank of 1st lieutenant. He was awarded the bronze star, national defense medal and the Vietnam Service medal.
Knickman: “I want to say thank you for everyone that showed up today and I thank the Blue Star for the quilt. I’m sure there are a lot of veterans that came back that know we didn’t get any accolades at coming back, but we appreciate you all showing up.”
President Barack Obama proclaimed March 29, 2012 as Vietnam Veterans Day.
President Donald Trump declared it s national holiday in 2017 for the 50th anniversary of the war and each year thereafter.