USAG Japan commemorates Vietnam veterans after 50 years
CAMP ZAMA, Japan (May 14, 2015) -- "Service, Valor and Sacrifice," are words that symbolize the virtues demonstrated by veterans during the Vietnam War; they are the words that encompass the 50th anniversary Vietnam War Commemoration flag uncased during the commemoration ceremony held May 12 at the Camp Zama Community Activity Center.
"This is such an important ceremony," said Maj. Gen. James C. Boozer, Sr., commander of U.S. Army Japan and I Corps (Forward).
"Our veterans of the Vietnam conflict fought for their country, they served their nation; they did it in a jungle far, far away," said Boozer, "they deserve to be recognized for that selfless service."
After the posting of colors from a joint color guard of servicemen from the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines the 50th anniversary Vietnam War Commemoration flag was uncased, followed by Boozer's introduction of Command Sgt. Maj. James E. Slade, retired, and the guest speaker for the event.
Slade, who spent 30 years on active duty and in the Utah Army National Guard, combined, said, so often the Vietnam conflict was displayed in a "bad light."
"All that we heard about Vietnam was bad, for years," said Slade, "every time there was a bad guy in the movies, he was a Vietnam vet."
During his speech, Slade commented that it takes about 50 years for the true facts and figures about a war or conflict to come out.
Two-thirds of the people in who served in the Vietnam conflict were volunteers, only one-third was drafted, said Slade.
"The media made it seem like every young man in America was being drafted," continued Slade; however, every Soldier that served in the Vietnam War will tell a different story.
Assigned to November Company, 75th Infantry Rangers, attached to the 173rd Airborne Division, Slade went on 42 mission during the Vietnam War.
"I was a ranger," said Slade, "but I was like everyone else in that war; when I got there I had no idea what the war was even about."
"I didn't know what we were doing; I didn't know what the goals were, said Slade, "then one day, my attitude changed."
Emotionally, Slade recounted the mission that changed his perspective of the Vietnam conflict.
"We were out on a mission and then we got this high priority message. It said, 'you need to move as quickly as you can to help protect a mountain yard village.'
It was only five of us, but they wanted us to go in and pull some security for them until a larger team could come in and help this village.
The North Vietnamese were planning to hit that village because the village was giving aid to the American Soldiers. The North Vietnamese wanted to make an example of that village and teach everyone that giving aid was not what they were suppose to do.
'So we moved out, in very thick jungle, we were only a few clicks away, but it took us a long time to get there.
When we broke out of the jungle into this village, it was the most horrifying thing I had ever seen in my life because the North Vietnamese beat us there.
They had killed everything in that village, down to the chickens and the village chief's dog.
They killed the old men, women and children, and took the young men to be Soldiers for them.'"
Slade said as his team walked around the hooch (or hutch) in the middle of the village, there was a tree, and in that tree was a young girl who had been abused, beaten, killed then hung upside down.
"That day, folks, I think I figured out what the war was all about."
Slade said he didn't care what was going on back home with the Vietnam conflict protesters, and the "talks" happening in Washington D.C., what he cared about was "that poor young lady" that he and his fellow Soldiers found in that desolated mountain village.
"I thought 'that's my job,' to protect those who cannot protect themselves," said Slade.
When you join any military service, Soldiers have to understand that it is not going to be easy, said Slade.
"It's hard… hard on marriages, hard on families, hard on individuals."
Back in the Vietnam era, to get a letter would take about 60 days, said Slade. Now, Soldiers and family members can pull up correspondents in minutes from their I-pads and other communication devices.
"I got to call home once, the whole time I was in Vietnam. I waited in a line for 8 hours," Slade commented, "it was raining and I got 10 minutes on the phone."
"When you can't get a hold of your family, it is sometimes a distraction, because you feel all alone," said Slade.
Although the morale was often low due to not being able to communicate with family and loved ones back home, Slade said the rest of his time in Vietnam, he focused on protecting those who could not protect themselves.
After a special recognition of the Vietnam War veterans in attendance by Col. Joy Curriera and Command Sgt. Maj. Rosalba Dumont-Carrion, the commander and command sergeant major of U.S. Army Garrison Japan, respectively, a rendition of taps was played before the retiring of the colors, followed by a brief cake cutting ceremony.
"It was very important to have a plan down to maximize our ability to recognized these great Americans; we recognized seven great Americans, Vietnam War veterans," said Curriera.
It is important for us to understand that those that served paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country, said Curriera.
"It is important to remember," said Curriera, "we can never forget their service and as generations go by it is important for our young Soldiers now, to understand history."
"It's more than studying it in the school books; it's really reflecting and thinking about what they have done to pave the way for us; Americans now that are currently serving," said Curriera.
"Every Soldier that puts on a uniform," no matter their branch of service, "should be honored," said Slade.
During the Vietnam conflict, Slade said he felt that Soldiers were treated unfairly upon their return from their fellow countrymen.
Slade said one of the greatest things that has happen since the Vietnam era is how Soldiers are recognized for their service.
"We don't blame the Soldiers and we welcome the Soldiers home," said Slade, because "it's honorable to serve your country."
"Politicians make the decisions, Soldiers carry them out," said Slade.
Vietnam veterans did not receive warm "welcome homes," said Slade, so it became custom for Vietnam veterans to welcome each other home.
"So over the years now, the greeting has been, 'welcome home' whenever we see each other," Slade commented, "maybe its 50 years too late, but to all the Vietnam vets, 'welcome home.'"