Bitter memories of a country that falsely blamed them for a war and oftentimes ignored their military service were made more tolerable for 268 Vietnam War veterans Thursday at the Del Webb Spruce Creek Community Center in Summerfield.
That’s because each one in attendance received a Vietnam Veteran lapel pin and a certificate of commemoration “on behalf of a grateful nation.” The awards were presented by members of The Villages’ Marine Corps League’s Col. Phillip C. Delong Detachment in coordination with the Del Webb Community Veterans Association.
In addition, similar gifts were presented to 17 women whose husbands died in Vietnam.
Another highlight was the recognition given to Betty Dibble, of Citrus Heights, Calif., who was honored twice. She is the sister of Marine Pvt. Dennis Carol Smith, who was killed after stepping on a land mine in Dec. 1967 – just 11 days after arriving in Vietnam. She also is a surviving spouse. Her husband, Richard, was a 22-year Air Force veteran before retiring as a lieutenant colonel.
Dibble was the guest of Jim and Caroline Foreman of Del Webb.
“I knew Richard for 50 years. We both served as aircraft maintenance officers at Clark Air Base,” said Jim Foreman, who now serves as Adjutant for the Spruce Creek Country Club Vietnam Veterans Association.
The program’s keynote speaker was retired Army Col. Joe Ramos, now the senior adviser to the USA Vietnam War Commemoration Office in the Pentagon.
“I came from Washington to especially honor these local veterans and to recognize the efforts of Lou Calleja and the other members of The Villages’ Marine Corps Detachment in conducting these events,” he said.
His presentation featured two stirring videos. The first was a dramatization of a widow of a Vietnam soldier when she is presented with the long-lost dog tags and a ring belonging to her husband, who remains missing in action, and the Army’s pledge to continue to search for his remains.
The other video briefly traced the war’s history: the commitment of six million men and women who honorably served during the Vietnam era and the country’s failure to recognize the returning veterans.
The video continued with a tour of the new Vietnam War exhibit in the Pentagon, along with scenes of some of 11,000 ceremonies that “right the wrong” by personally recognizing 1.2 million veterans, their spouses and family members.
The pinning ceremony was another in the detachment’s initiatives that honor those who served in the military between Nov. 1, 1955 and May 15, 1975.
“We did not choose where we would be sent,” Ramos concluded. “We all were one team.”