Vietnam veterans and their families to be thanked, honored here on March 29

CHESTERTOWN — Lawrence Wilkerson, a retired Army colonel who served as Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff from 2002 until 2005, will deliver the keynote address at this year’s National Vietnam War Veterans Day observance in Kent County.

Wilkerson is a Vietnam combat veteran.

This marks the third year in a row that Kent County will honor veterans of the Vietnam War era and their families.

The date is Friday night, March 29 in the downtown Memorial Park of Chestertown, beginning at 6 p.m.

The event expected to last about an hour.

The public is encouraged to attend.

Organizers of the inaugural event here in 2022 had expected 50 or so people, but the turnout was six times that.

The count last year also was 300-plus.

Nationally, this is the seventh edition of the solemn event, which honors all veterans who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces at any time during what is considered the Vietnam War era, Nov. 1, 1955 to May 15, 1975 — regardless of location.

This includes nurses and doctors too.

A statement on the website states: “We make no distinction between veterans who served in-country, in-theater, or who were stationed elsewhere during the Vietnam War period. All were called to serve and none could self-determine where they would serve.”

The Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017, signed into law by then-President Donald Trump, designates March 29 as National Vietnam War Veterans Day to thank and honor veterans and their families for their service and sacrifices.

This special day joins six other military-centric annual observances: Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day, Navy Day and Veterans Day.

The date of March 29 was chosen to be observed in perpetuity because March 29, 1973 was the day the last U.S. troops left South Vietnam.

Around this same day, Hanoi, then the capital of North Vietnam, released the last of its acknowledged prisoners of war.

It was an unpopular war.

The returning veterans were treated differently — made to feel unwelcome — than service men and women returning from the previous wars or recent deployments.

After 50 years, it was decided that it was a wrong that had to be corrected.

“By being here today, all of you, whether you are veterans, family members, friends or supporters, demonstrate in the most solemn and respectful way, a high regard and enduring respect for all those who have served the nation in uniform,” Chestertown resident Peter Sweetser, who served in the Marine Reserves for six years stateside as a helicopter crew chief, said in his opening remarks at the 2023 event.

“You join the millions who have participated in ceremonies like this in a vow never again to confuse personal disapproval of war with prejudice against those who honorably wear the uniform of our armed forces,” said Sweetser, who joined the Marine Corps in 1966.

Sweetser heads up the planning committee that includes Paul Showalter, commander of Chestertown American Legion Post 36; Larry Wilson, immediate past president of the Sumner Hall board of directors; Bonnie Hill, regent of Old Kent Chapter DAR; Aaron R. Krochmal, advisor, and members of the Washington College Kappa Sigma fraternity; and Phyllis Brown.

The American Legion posts in Betterton and Rock Hall also are partners in this event.

The tentative schedule includes opening remarks from Sweetser, presentation of the colors by a Marine Corps color guard, prayers, singing of the national anthem, recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, and recognition of the participating organizations and Vietnam War commemoration partners.

Kappa Sigma fraternity members will lead the Pledge of Allegiance, set up a Missing Man Table and assist with the pinning ceremony.

Following remarks from the guest speaker, there will be a special pinning ceremony to honor the Gold Star families of the five area servicemen who were killed in Vietnam; the spouses of Vietnam War-era veterans who have since died; and all who served during the Vietnam War era.

The pin features the message, “A Grateful Nation Thanks and Honors You.”

Anyone who received a lapel pin last year or the year before should wear it to this year’s ceremony.

Also, all attendees are encouraged to bring a Vietnam-era veteran with them.

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