Friday, September 18, 2009

Vietnam veterans: Thank you

By Jeff Martin - The Examiner

Independence, MO — Congressman Emanuel Cleaver sounded more like a preacher on Saturday afternoon than a representative, calling on the hundreds of people sitting on the front lawn of the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum to honor Vietnam Veterans because they deserve it.

"This is the perfect event to honor those who should have been honored five decades ago," Cleaver said to a roaring applause.

While it's difficult to say with certainty when the Vietnam War began, most agree it was on Sept. 27, 1959, when the United States established the Military Assistance Advisory Group in Saigon to aid the French military. By the end, 58,000 American troops would lose their lives.

Cleaver, who organizers acknowledged Saturday has devoted his life to public service, expressed his disappointment that those who risked and gave their lives for public safety were treaty so poorly."These are the Americans who fought for the United States," he said, his voice sometimes booming over the loudspeaker. "These are the Americans who fought, who did not demonstrate."

Cleaver acknowledged that many of those gathered at the event carry difficult memories, but that those same memories could be forged into a sense of pride.

"You carried the memories of fighting and suffering," he said, "but you also carry with you a sense of courage and pride. If you look into the eyes of these warriors, you'll see pain, but you'll also see a sense of pride."

Cleaver was joined by several local and state officials, including Independence Mayor Don Reimal and his wife; members of City Council; Raytown Mayor David Bower and Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders; others in attendance included state Rep. Paul LeVota and state Rep. Gary Dusenberg.

The event was organized by Cleaver, and he said there was no better place to celebrate such sacrifice than at the Truman Library. He recognized Truman's service: serving in World War I and, as president, commanding the largest United States active military in history in World War II.

Many family members of those who served in the Vietnam conflict were honored with a certificate and special coin minted for the occasion. Siblings and mothers and fathers stepped up to the podium and, with cracking voice, offered a brief description of their lost loved one(s).

"My two brothers both served and died in Vietnam," one woman said, adding they graduated from Oak Park High School in 1966 and 1968 and gave their lives for their country.

Another man's son was killed in 1970 while leading an infantry patrol. He volunteered for the United States Army after graduating from Rockhurst College.

To demonstrate the military's might, Cleaver directed everyone's eye to the sky, where a B-2 bomber sailed over the crowd.

Speakers following Cleaver told of more and more veterans signing up for benefits and recognizing their worth. Approximately 25 percent more veterans, one speaker said, were treated last year because of increased awareness of veterans programs and services, as well as an increase and expansion in veteran service offices and treatment centers.