While Vietnam War veterans may have initially “stayed in the background,” Cartersville resident Norman McCallister is encouraging them to step into the spotlight April 1 and be recognized for their service.
During the ceremony, those who have yet to receive the accolades will be presented the state’s Vietnam War Certificate of Honor and the Defense Department Commemoration Vietnam War Veteran Lapel Pin.
“It’s been a long time since we came home,” said McCallister, commander of the Vietnam Veterans of Bartow County. “I feel that it’s great that the federal, local [and] state governments are starting to recognize that we were there and that we actually made a difference for the United States.
“... We stayed in the background for years because of the way we were treated when we came home. I think that we need to step forward, be recognized and be treated the same as the World War I, World War II [and] Korea vets. The vets now, they are recognized [very favorably]. From 1960 through 1975, in my opinion, we were the best America had. We did what needed to be done, even though America was hostile toward the military at the time.”
He continued, “When we came home ... it was hard to admit that you were a Vietnam veteran. You didn’t want to be talked down to. So yes, I think it’s time that all Vietnam vets come forward, be recognized and be proud that they did the job they did.”
Starting at 2 p.m., the Certificate of Honor & Lapel Pin Ceremony will take place at Tabernacle Baptist Church, 112 E. Church St. in Cartersville.
“It is never too late to [say] thank you for serving in the military,” said Brian Zeringue, events/projects manager for Georgia Department of Veterans Service. “The Vietnam veterans never received that — simple acknowledgment of their personal sacrifice for military service to our nation during the Vietnam War.
“There are an estimated 234,000 Vietnam veterans living in Georgia, according to VA statistical data. In conjunction with the 50th Anniversary Commemoration of the Vietnam War, the Georgia Department of Veterans Service, in partnership with the Office of Gov. Nathan Deal, has created the Vietnam War Certificate of Honor program for these veterans.”
Kicking off March 30, 2015, the state’s Certificate of Honor Program has issued 16,625 documents to Vietnam War veterans, who were active duty at some time between June 1, 1954, and May 15, 1975, and received an honorable discharge.
“It is never the wrong time to say thank you to a veteran, and that is especially true for so many Vietnam veterans who were never properly thanked when they returned home,” Georgia Department of Veterans Service Commissioner Mike Roby said. “We hope to eventually present every Georgia Vietnam veteran with a Certificate of Honor recognizing their service.”
“It is an absolute honor to represent the governor and the state of Georgia to personally shake the hands of these heroes and say, ‘Thank you for your service and welcome home.’ ... It is gratifying to see and hear how appreciative [these] heroes of the Vietnam War are when presented the certificate and lapel pin as a token for their personal sacrifice. Most all ceremonies, such as the upcoming Cartersville’s presentation ceremony, are attended not only by the Vietnam veteran, but their spouses, children and many times their grandchildren.”
Those interested who are eligible for the honors will be able to sign up through March 30.
“The musical tribute and video at the beginning of the ceremony is very emotional, setting the tone as to why this recognition is long overdue,” Zeringue said. “The ceremony features a musical invocation honoring those who were killed in action and those still unaccounted for/missing in action as a result of the Vietnam War and the reading of Governor Deal’s proclamation ‘Saluting Georgia’s Vietnam Veterans.’ Most all ceremonies end with the playing of the military service songs and ‘God Bless the U.S.A.’
While McCallister already has received the certificate and lapel pin, he plans to attend the ceremony to talk with other veterans and encourage them to join the Vietnam Veterans of Bartow County organization. Serving with the U.S. Army’s 1st Infantry Division from April 1969 to late March 1970, he was a radar operator during the Vietnam War.
“We went out to different bases, and we would ... keep an eye out to make sure that they didn’t get hit by the enemy,” McCallister said. “We used a radar and we could pick up anyone coming in towards the base. We’d let them know, and then they would be able to protect themselves.
“... When I landed in California, when we got off the plane, we were cussed at. Then some of the troops that were coming in were spit on and called names. Well, all of us were called names, and we weren’t those types of people. We were just doing our job. In my opinion, we deserve to be recognized the same as any other group of veterans. We didn’t do any more or any less than what the other veterans have done or are doing right now. And I think we deserve this recognition from federal, state and local government.”