Saturday luncheon to honor Vietnam veterans

Published 11:00 am Friday, May 12, 2023

It is estimated that nearly 9.1 million Americans fought in the Vietnam War, with over 58,000 killed in action.

On Saturday, May 13, Winchester will take time to honor them.

Beginning at 11:00 a.m. at the Winchester Elks Lodge on Shoppers Drive, the Hart Chapter of the NSDAR, or National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, will host veterans for a celebratory luncheon.

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At 1:00 p.m., those attending can stay for a live telecast of events from West Potomac Park in Washington, D.C.

There, the United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration will host “Welcome Home! A Nation Honors our Vietnam Veterans and Their Families”, featuring musical performances, dramatic storytelling, and videos that tell the stories of Vietnam veterans and the powerful legacy they’ve left following their service.

“Fifty years ago, the Vietnam War technically ended, and a lot of Vietnam veterans never had an official welcome home as veterans did in World War I, World War II, and so on,” said Barbara Disney, Regent of the Hart Chapter of National Society Daughters of the American Revolution. “We’re very honored to participate in this.”

During the Vietnam War, many Clark County natives and Kentuckians donned military uniforms to serve in the Armed Forces.

Unfortunately, seven individuals with Clark County roots died, with their names forever inscribed at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C, and the Vietnam Memorial on the back side of the Clark County Courthouse.

Of those seven soldiers, six served in the U.S. Army.

They are Private First Class Willie Gene Aldridge, PFC Floyd Barker Jr., and PFC Bobby Lee Gentry; Corporal Bobby Gene Newby and CPL Everett Allen Planck; and Platoon SGT Sim Smeddley Steverson.

Staff Sergeant Merle Edward Estes was a United States Air Force member who lost his life in an airplane crash.

Aldridge, Gentry, Planck, and Steverson were each awarded the Bronze Star.

Steverson, a father of two, was also awarded the Silver Star for his actions, including destroying three bunkers of enemy forces amidst intense fire while moving through a heavily mined and booby-trapped area.

At the Vietnam War Memorial in Winchester on Monday morning, Mayor JoEllen Reed was joined by members of the Hart Chapter, Clark County Judge-Executive Les Yates, Circuit Court Judge David M. Ward, and more to pay tribute and honor veterans by reading a proclamation.

“We honor those who answered our nation’s call,” she said. “Sacrifices by our Vietnam veterans have improved all aspects of service for our modern warriors, proving that our Vietnam veterans remain relevant mentors, leaders, and heroes.”

Yates, a United States Air Force veteran, was in Germany during the Vietnam War.

While identifying with being an American on foreign soil where the language was unknown, Yates acknowledged that relating to the experience was difficult.

“I can’t imagine what these guys went through. At least in Germany, nobody was trying to kill you,” he said. “There’s two groups of Vietnam veterans out there. I think there’s one that remember well, and there’s also a group that wants to forget. I knew an old guy…He’s passed away now, and he still had nightmares. That’s why we do this. [It’s] not just for the ones that passed away, but also the living.”

As history will remember, not all veterans were welcomed with open arms at the time of their return.

With the Vietnam War being highly contentious, some ostracized returning veterans, even resorting to undue criticism.

As a result, part of Mayor Reed’s proclamation spoke of the need not to repeat such actions.

“We honor those who answered our nation’s call to duty, and vow to never again confuse personal disapproval of war with prejudice against those who honorably wear the uniform…and are deserving of our utmost respect and dedicated support.”

Though it may be delayed, Disney repeated a message of gratitude for what veterans have accomplished.

“We thank you for what you have done. It’s a long time coming, but we want you to know that we do appreciate what you did,” Disney said. “You didn’t ask for this job, but you did it, and you came back home, and you became productive members of society.”