Vietnam veterans, once scorned, deserve their due

Published 6:31 pm Tuesday, March 15, 2022

By Thomas Mastaglio

Guest columnist

The Vietnam War officially ended on March 29, 1973, when the last U.S. military organization in the Republic of Vietnam was disbanded, the Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV).

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U.S. units and individual servicemen and servicewomen assigned to the Vietnam theater had been deploying home with no replacement for several years prior to that. Additionally, most served a one-year tour in Vietnam during the period of that conflict, 1955 to 1973.

The country was highly divided in its support of the war, which was promoted by several presidents and Congresses. In fact, the opposition to our involvement in Vietnam was at times violently demonstrated in major cities throughout the U.S. during the period 1968-1972.

Frustration with U.S. political leadership by that opposition was transferred to disdain and disrespect for the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Coast Guard personnel who served in that theater. Returning servicemen and servicewomen were shouted at, insulted and physically assaulted upon their return to the U.S. This occurred even in a military heavy area such as Hampton Roads, for example at the Norfolk airport and other locations.

These men and women were not responsible for the political decisions made that led to U.S. involvement, but they often shouldered much of the blame in the minds of those opposed to that involvement.

A movement to change the narrative and publicly recognize the arduous service of those who served in Vietnam per se, and in any military unit during this period, began in the late 1990s. This movement culminated in official recognition of all Vietnam-era veterans and a show of public appreciation for their service; President Barack Obama proclaimed March 29, 2012, as Vietnam Veterans Day, a time to conduct programs, ceremonies and activities to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of the Vietnam War.

A congressional act was signed by President Donald Trump on March 28, 2017. The Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017 act officially recognizes March 29 as National Vietnam War Veterans Day and designates it as a day on which the US flag should be displayed.

Smithfield, through its American Legion post and VFW chapter, has recognized local men and women who served during the Vietnam-era with events at the Legion post in 2018 and a regionwide lunch and program for over 100 veterans in 2019 at the Smithfield Center. Due to COVID, there were no public events in 2020 and 2021.

This year the Legion post is hosting a dinner on Saturday, March 26, at the post, and the Isle of Wight County Museum will host a program at 12:30 p.m. on March 29.

Local Vietnam-era Veterans are invited to sign up for the dinner by calling the American Legion at 757-357-9239 and leaving your name, number in your party and call-back phone number. This event is at no cost to attendees.


Thomas Mastaglio is media and publicity coordinator for American Legion Post 49 in Smithfield. His email address is