Area Vietnam veterans received recognition for their service Sunday night in the first ceremony in Hays of a national program.
During a dinner of the Hays chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America, the Courtney-Spalding Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution conducted a pinning ceremony with 50 area veterans, presenting each with a lapel pin and certificate.
The Hays chapter of the DAR is a commemorative partner — the only one in northwest Kansas — of the United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration, which was launched on Memorial Day 2012. The commemoration continues through Veterans Day 2025 in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.
U.S. involvement in Vietnam started in the 1950s with deployment of advisers that grew in the 1960s and expanded to full combat deployment of troops in 1965. The last personnel were evacuated in 1975.
All veterans who served in the U.S. military from Nov. 1, 1955, to May 15, 1975, regardless of where they served, are eligible to receive the pin.
“You simply have to meet the criteria of serving in a branch of the United States armed forces in that time period,” said Sherrie Smith, regent of the Courtney-Spalding DAR.
The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates there are 7 million living veterans who served during that time.
During Sunday’s pinning ceremony, the veterans heard the words that many did not hear for a long time: “Welcome home.”
Veterans said those two words still have great meaning to them today.
“You bet it does,” said Ray Duncan, a U.S. Army veteran from Colby.
“I got spit at, I got yelled at. I had who people didn’t talk to me, still don’t talk to me. I told my friends I was in jail instead of going to Vietnam,” he said.
“It actually still gets to me,” Bill Posson, a Navy veteran from Stuttgart, said of hearing “welcome home.”
“I give it out to the veterans that I meet, too. I welcome them home. It means a lot,” he said.
“Like 99 percent of the other vets, I never talked about it until about probably a year or two years ago. Just didn’t want to,” said George Overton, a Navy veteran also from Colby.
He said meeting and getting to know Duncan, who moved to Colby from California after retirement, helped.
“I probably talked about it more than I ever have,” he said.
“I talk about the good things,” Duncan said, citing the brotherhood among veterans.
After the pinning ceremony, the veterans heard from Terry Buckler, an Army veteran from Holt, Mo. Buckler received a pin Sunday from his cousin, Bev Unruh, a member of Courtney-Spalding DAR.
Buckler was a Green Beret, the Army special forces, and participated in the Son Tay Raid, the first joint military operation under the control of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He detailed the planning and his experience in training for the raid and the raid itself on Nov. 21, 1970.
The mission to rescue American prisoners of war from the Son Tay prison camp in northern Vietnam became the model for military raids since, Buckler said, including the rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch from an Iraqi hospital in 2003 and the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan in 2011.
The raid failed to rescue any POWs, however, as they had been moved some time before due to flooding. But it was a success, Buckler said, in the intelligence and tactics used to carry it out. In addition, after learning of the raid, the North Vietnamese army began to give better treatment to American POWs.
Many POWs previously had been kept in solitary confinement, some for years, were often beaten and tortured, and given poor food and medical care. After Son Tay, prison camps were consolidated to those like the infamous “Hanoi Hilton,” and prisoners were kept in communal areas and received better food and medical treatment.
Former POWs he has talked to since said it also was a morale booster to know they hadn’t been forgotten, Buckler said.
“The Son Tay raid was a success for them,” he said.