Veterans and Community Gather for National Vietnam War Veterans Day Ceremony

Knoxville, Tenn. (WATE) – Veterans gathered at the East Tennessee Veterans Cemetery on Monday to recognize National Vietnam War Veterans Day.

It was March 2017 when former President Donald Trump called on all Americans to observe March 29 with appropriate ceremonies to commemorate the anniversary of the Vietnam War.

On this day in 1973, the last American troops withdrew from Vietnam. The Paris Peace Accords ended US involvement in the controversial Vietnam War. Then, two years later, at the end of April 1975, Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, fell into the hands of communist forces.

Today we remember those who served along the way and those who remained.

A pair of Kiowa helicopters, like those used in the Vietnam War, flew over the East Tennessee Veterans Cemetery to pay respects on National Vietnam War Veterans Day to honor those who died and those who served.

“When we came back to our country, he was so disenchanted with the war. And a lot of us, when we got off the plane, got spat on,” said Reverend Pat Polis, president of the VVA chapter.

So there were no parades welcoming Vietnam veterans back from the war. Many of the men and women who served in uniform in Vietnam were looked down upon for their role in the war.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been 48 years,” says Bill Robinson.

Bill Robinson was the guest speaker, he is the longest serving prisoner of war in the history of our country. In September 1965, he was captured after his Air Force helicopter on a rescue mission was shot down. The last of the POWs returned home that day in 1973.

“We have over 58,000 people who did not return home, they gave their lives for the freedom we enjoy today. Simply put, they gave their tomorrow for us,” said Robinson, a former POW from Vietnam.

One of those remembered at the ceremony is Freddie Owens, who died of cancer on March 30, 2018, a man who touched thousands of veterans in East Tennessee.

“Freddie was a giver. He was the one who always said, not what I gain, but how can I serve, how can I give,” said Vern Vargo, a Vietnam veteran.

We first met Freddie in February 2012. At the time, he led a successful fight to keep veterans together who wanted group counseling at the local veterans clinic. Later, Freddie would form and co-chair the Regional Veterans Mental Health Council.

“I really didn’t know what I had?” Freddie Owens had said. What he had was PTSD. He couldn’t bear what he had seen in the war.

“Of the 21 men in his platoon that he was assigned to deal with, only 9 boarded the helicopter,” Vern Vargo said. Then an army sergeant, Freddie had been part of the first major battle group in Vietnam, in 1965.

The battle of IA Drang Valley is depicted in the film, “We were soldiers.“Freddie Owens will leave the army later, troubled.

“I didn’t like myself,” Owens had said. “….Angry, disenfranchised, depressed.”

But after years of nightmares, his second wife dared him to get help. He did, and Freddie went on to help others build a military-friendly congregation at his church.

“There are countless stories,” said Carolyn Mitchell, president of DAR. “I think it’s appropriate that we take the time to honor these young men and women who have given their all.”

And many were honored for their service years ago and for how they continue to serve their community today.

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