By Staff Sgt. Jessica Condit
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
United States service members rescued more than 1,000 South Vietnamese military members on Jan. 12, 1962, from Saigon during Operation Chopper.
This became the U.S. military’s first combat operation in Vietnam against the Vietcong, and established the true beginning of the conflict as well as became the defining image of the entire war.
This year, the Jacksonville Museum of Military History in partnership with service members from Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War with the Fifth Annual Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans ceremony. The ceremony, dedicated to honoring all Vietnam veterans, pays special homage to more than 50 Arkansans who lost their lives during the Vietnam conflict or who have passed away since coming home.
With more than 58,000 deaths total, the Vietnam War took a toll on the United States. While it divided the U.S. politically and emotionally, it also brought men and women from all walks of life together to defend a common cause to complete a seemingly endless mission.
The war is a story of American patriots who risked their lives to save the lives of their comrades. They missed their children’s birthdays and fought without reprieve to ensure others can enjoy the liberties and rights Americans value. Their bravery and sacrifice was no small gesture. In some cases, it meant giving their youth, sacrificing family moments and coming home to an uncertain future.
Amidst exposure to the tragedies and violence of the war, service members longed for home, relishing the thought of the day they were finally able to be back on American soil. As they disembarked the plane, their excitement quickly turned to confusion as they were shunned and protested.
“Even though I was only nine years old, what hurt me most was to see the protestors turn on the troops,” said DannaKay Duggar, Jacksonville Museum of Military History director. “It broke my heart and that’s what motivates me today. If they want to protest, that’s fine, but you don’t turn it on the troops.”
The community Vietnam Veterans lived before leaving for the way in many ways seemed to turn their backs on them. The service members were left to recover and integrate alone, often with devastating results.
“It was such a controversial war,” Duggar said. “You didn’t even tell people when you came back that you were in Vietnam. Everyone treated Vietnam like a cuss word, whispering it. If they heard you say it, people would look away from you and back away. We can’t be the policemen of the world, but the thing is, that has nothing to do with supporting the troops.”
Fifty years ago, with heartbreaking consequences these Vietnam veterans answered their Nation’s call. Today, the tables have turned for Vietnam veterans. Communities honor the men and women who served during the Vietnam War and remember the fallen who never came home or are still missing in action today.
This commemorative anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War highlights the events that occurred that day and each day afterward for the next 10 years, set the tone for U.S. service members to follow and be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. This commitment is supported by strong community ties - often the community is comprised of citizens who once wore the uniform.
“A lot of the veterans are very accepting of the event,” Duggar said. “Some, however, have the mindset of too little, too late. The event also allows the veterans to network together and share stories, and helps with healing.”
Our Nation stands grateful and stronger for their service and welcomes each Vietnam veteran home with open arms. For those who have not returned, you are not forgotten. We will wait until everyone comes home,” Duggar said.