Pickens veterans of the Vietnam war being recognized (l-r): Robert Reitz, Russell Pendley, Michael O'Rear, Ron Caraway, Kiriko Kondos, James Reid, J.T. Swisher, Gene Teague, Daniel Fink, James Hefner, Charles Gillette, Joseph Ledbetter, and Eddy Washington.
By Hank Hollensbe
On March 20, the effort by Pete Wheeler, Georgia Commissioner of Veterans Service, to recognize the services of veterans of the Vietnam war culminated in the proclamation by Governor Nathan Deal that each of the 234,000 Georgia veterans of that war should be honored with a Certificate of Honor for meritorious services and that organizations throughout the State should assist in the holding of appropriate presentations.
The June 18 awards in Pickens County were made to 15 members of Chapter 47 of the Disabled American Veterans. The ceremony, a part of the regular monthly meeting of the chapter, was held in the Roper Community Center. Hair ran to long and white, complexions ran to tan and wrinkled, and apparel ran to fancy dress—specially-designed black lounge suits and garrison hats decorated with a variety of awards and mementoes of the war and continuing service thereafter.
David Mahaffey opened the ceremony with a prayer, followed by Commander J. T. Swisher with the pledge of allegiance.
Pickens County Commissioner Rob Jones called each of the awardees to the podium to be recognized; Cynthia Hayes, manager of the Gainesville office of Georgia Department of Veterans Services, presented the Certificate of Honor and a Vietnam War Veteran lapel pin, and Major Michael O’Rear, US Army, returned the salutes of the honorees. All hands, then, adjourned for coffee and a variety of sweets.
Memories of wars tend to become dusty and confused and finally forgotten. How many Americans have been born since the close of the Vietnam war in 1975? How many Americans differentiate the Vietnam war from the World wars and the Korean conflict? Many, of course—perhaps even most, but not in the manner that these veterans can understand and appreciate. They bear the wounds, they survived and their memories of an unpopular conflict, now long over, but ever with them.