Carbon County Vietnam Veterans were finally given the welcome home they so deserved on Saturday, when Speaker of the House Keith McCall presented medals and House of Representative Citations to the 300 Vietnam Veterans who had registered to be part of the program. The program was held at Jim Thorpe High School where approximately 800 people gathered in the high school auditorium.
McCall began the program with a moment of silence for those who recently died at Ford Hood.
After this brief pause, McCall opened the program by thanking everyone for attending.
"Veterans of every war left as ordinary men and women and returned as heroes," said McCall. "These heroes defended our nation and our freedom. As we celebrate Veterans Day its only right that the entire community and the nation pause to reflect on the valor and the service of our veterans. We're fortunate to live in the United States of America where freedom is an inalienable right. But make no mistake, freedom comes only at the price of personal sacrifice and service to our country."
Over the past few years, McCall has honored World War II and Korean War veterans, but Saturday's event was focused on the Vietnam Veterans.
"Today, I have the distinct honor and pleasure to recognize and present medals to the veterans of the war that will never be forgotten - the Vietnam War," said McCall. "Yes it was the war that divided the nation, both abroad and on our own soil."
McCall said that the Vietnam War was a war that like those that preceded it, "It brought together soldiers, sailors and airmen and marines - men and women alike who loved their country - the men and women who have brought honor to our community and are an inspiration to our young people," said McCall.
He said that the service men and service women stationed all the over the world are connected to the veterans that were in the room and to the veterans who came before them - not just by willingness to serve but by a devotion to country and a firm understanding of the price of freedom.
"The devotion of our Vietnam Veterans was tested in a time like any other in our country's history," added McCall. "Yet each veteran responded to the call of duty and stepped forward without reservations. Vietnam Veterans share the courage and the commitment and the knowledge that as Americans we are part of something larger than ourselves." McCall said that whether it was stateside, or in southeast asia on the land in the air or on the sea, a call for service went out and that the Vietnam Veterans.
"The same devotion to country that reaches back to the beginning of our nation and stretches from the Commons of Boston to the streets of Baghdad fortify each of you and inspire each of us," said McCall. "It my district honor to participate in this special ceremony, hand each of you token of appreciation from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. It seems a small token, but please know that this is given by a grateful state, a grateful Commonwealth that pays due tribute to your sacrifice and your service for the betterment of our country.
These ceremonies give friends and family the opportunity to recognize the selfless service to our country during the times of conflict and its with same purpose and that same admiration in mind that we play tribute to the men and women who served during the Vietnam War.
It is Veteran's day on Wednesday, it has become customary to set aside that one day to pay tribute to the members of the military who serve today and yesterday," he said. "It is my hope that those reflections remain foremost in our minds every day, especially during this time of war and this time of need for so many returning veterans."
Also thanking the veterans for their service was Gen. Jay Barry, U.S. Air Force Reserve.
Barry thanked McCall and everyone who organized the event.
"It really means a lot to all of us who served in Vietnam," said Barry. Barry said that the Vietnam War was a troubled time for this nation.
"Since that time things have changed," he said. "And I believe that all of us who served in Vietnam are part of the change. We were treated much differently then the men and women who are coming home today. "Our nation was divided during that time. We were different then. We were teenagers and we reacted like teenagers. We protested wildly. We wanted things to be different, but as years passed, we have watched our Vietnam vets open their hands and hold their heads up high. Vietnam veterans did more than wear a uniform and serve, we created a new American conscience. What were the reasons for the change? It is called maturity. The maturity of the American people and of the American conscience."
Barry said that America has finally gotten it right.
"When our American heroes return form Iraq, they are received by their fellow Americans with grace and honor," added Barry. "We realize that these men and women who return home after fulfilling a commitment have the same feelings that we feel deep inside as Vietnam Veternans. Part of that commitment comes from their need to support and defend the constitution of the United States. But now our American military are welcomed home with yellow ribbons and hugs and kisses from their family. Vietnam Veterans are responsible for that change in America's conscience."
Barry concluded, "To my Vietnam Veteran friends, thank you for your service and your contributions to this new American conscience. We live in the greatest country the world has ever seen."
McCall was assisted by his staff to present the medals and citations to the men and women who were finally welcomed home and thanked for their service.
Taking part in the program was the Panther Valley R.O.T.C. Richard "Reds" O'Donnell provided the prayers and Riley Durishin sang the national anthem.