The circle of flags with the breezy wind made a gorgeous backdrop for the 50th Commemorative Ceremony at Fort Lyon National Cemetery on March 30, 2016.

LAS ANIMAS, Colo. — The circle of flags with the breezy wind made a gorgeous backdrop for the 50th Commemorative Ceremony. VFW Auxiliary President Pamela Valdez promptly welcomed all who attended the ceremony at Fort Lyon National Cemetery on March 30, 2016, at 11 a.m. By proclamation from President Barack Obama, March 29 and 30 were designated across the nation to recognize, honor and thank the 7.2 million living Vietnam veterans for their service and sacrifice to our country. Over 9,000 organizations became 50th Commemorative Partners, of which the VFW Auxiliary Post #2411 of Las Animas is one.

A Vietnam veteran is defined as anyone who served active duty from November 1955 to May 1975. There was no distinction from those veterans who serve in-country, in-theater, or who were stationed elsewhere during the Vietnam War period.

The colors were posted by the VFW Post #2411 Color Guard and the national anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance were led by Dusty Severn, of Colorado Springs. Mardona Moreland provided the sound system. Pastor Charles Harder of the First Baptist Church of Las Animas, a Vietnam veteran delivered the invocation.

Pam Valdez shared how her husband, Nate Valdez was invited to the 101st Airborne 1/327th Delta Company Reunion in Colorado Springs in 2011 over 40 years after leaving Vietnam. He initially didn’t want to go, but the experience rekindled relationships and healing. Pam encouraged the veterans to use social media to reconnect to their Vietnam comrades and attend reunions. During the first reunion she attended, Pam had the opportunity to meet Nate’s commanding officer, Capt. Ted Severn. He presently is a retired US Army Colonel with 28 ? years of service and is living in Colorado Springs, and was introduced as the special guest speaker.

Severn was honored to be asked to come and speak on a subject dear to his heart, Vietnam. He also talked about how the first reunion came into being and how rewarding it has been getting reacquainted with his Vietnam brothers. He shared the geography, history and the beneficial outcomes of the Vietnam War. “Vietnam was a draw. One more day, and the North Vietnamese would have declared defeat.”

The 50th Commemorative National Committee designed a beautiful lapel pin to be given to Vietnam veterans attending the ceremony. Pam read the symbolism behind the design of an eagle in a blue circle surrounded by a laurel wreath. “The stripes symbolize the American flag and the six stars the allied forces, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, Thailand and the United States. On the back of the pin is embossed, “A Grateful Nation Thanks and Honors You.” The Vietnam veterans were asked to come forward and state their name, where they lived, and what service they served in. Over 60 plus veterans came forward. Many had traveled long distances to attend. They were given their lapel pin, a Buddy Poppy from a VFW Auxiliary member and a small American flag from the Junior and LAES Student Council students, under the direction of Principal Lana Gardner. The veterans were asked to remain standing for a group photo and collectively the audience thanked them for their service and sacrifice to our nation.

“The objective of this ceremony is to first recognize and thank the Vietnam veteran, but to also remember the fallen and MIAs,” said Pam Valdez. She then introduced Bent County Commissioner Bill Long.

Bill went on to talk about Vietnam being an unpopular and frustrating war that led the American public to become unappreciative and hostile toward the Vietnam veteran. The Vietnam soldiers are no different than any other soldiers in our history and are “no less worthy of thanks and praise,” Bill said. Bill further stated, “The Vietnam veteran should always hold his head high with pride, it is well deserved.” He shared that Bent County had two known MIA’s (Missing in Action), Lt. George Francis Pawlish, son of Mike and Anna Pawlish, 26 years old, was the co-pilot of an A3 Skyhawk Warrior attack bomber launched off the deck of Kitty Hawk to conduct a night mission to never return. His parents were notified on March 10, 1967, that he was MIA. The second MIA from Bent County was Timothy Michael Tucker, who had moved to this community with his mother and step father, employed at Fort Lyon Veterans Hospital. Capt. Tucker, 27 years old, was a Covey Forward Air Controller assigned to the 201st Tactical Air Support Squadron at Da Nang and was flying at OV-10A, was shot down at the southern tip of Laos never to be found. Bill shared that he knew of one KIA from Vietnam, Lt. Jacob Kinser, son of Mr. and Mrs. Elwin Kinser of Hasty, Colorado. On March 11, 1970, they had received word that their son was killed in action flying a helicopter mission north of Saigon. He left one daughter. Bill ended his talk with a moving letter from his daughter just wanting to find someone who served with him and regretting the opportunity of saying goodbye to her father.

Pam then recognized parents, spouses, and children of Vietnam veterans. Pam again thanked the Vietnam veterans and told them that they were “tough!” They survived more hardships than any other war … the draft, civil war, hot climates and monsoonal rains, animal attacks, razor sharp elephant grass, splintery bamboo, verbal political attacks, and then chemical attacks from Agent Orange, to name a few. She wanted them to know that they were loved and honored for their sacrifice and service in Vietnam. “It wasn’t YOU … it was US, who had to wake up and see the truth. Welcome home, soldier. We thank you!” she concluded.

She then invited all who attended to go to the VFW Post #2411 in Las Animas for a free sloppy joe luncheon sponsored by the VFW Post, VFW Auxiliary, and DAV Post of Las Animas. She encouraged them to fellowship, share their stories, and begin healing.

The VFW Auxiliary members placed a yellow floral wreath, symbolic of the Vietnam colors, at the base of the flagpole. This was followed by the volley salute from the American Legion composed from Posts, 6, 8,9, 94, 9313 Honor Guard and echo taps.

The 50th Commemorative Partner is to have two ceremonies in 2016. The next ceremony to welcome and thank the Vietnam veteran will be during the Veteran’s Day Ceremony, Nov. 11, 2016, at Las Animas High School. Lapel pins will be given to those who did not receive one. All Vietnam veterans are encouraged to attend the Veteran’s Day Ceremony for a special recognition.