Winchester honors local Vietnam veterans

Published 10:00 am Friday, May 19, 2023

On April 30th, 1975, the last Americans remaining in Vietnam were airlifted out, effectively ending the war.

However, they weren’t entirely well-received upon their return.

Nearly fifty years later, Winchester took a step in changing that.

Email newsletter signup

Last Saturday morning at the Elks Lodge located off of Shoppers Drive, dozens of veterans attended the “Welcome Home” ceremony hosted by the Hart Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR).

“Our nation draws inspiration and strength from these heroes who suffered as prisoners of war, and all those who were wounded and still carry the scars of war both seen and unseen,” said Barbara Disney, Regent of the Hart Chapter of the NSDAR. “Vietnam veterans represented nearly ten percent of their generation. They fought under challenging conditions, and when their service ended, they were not always welcomed. [Yet] they returned.”

The ceremony on Saturday was a part of the United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration, an office in Washington D.C., working alongside NSDAR and approximately 90 other organizations throughout the country to pay tribute to those who served.

In Washington, D.C., a three-day event honored such men and women.

To begin Saturday’s ceremony, the Winchester Fire Department presented a Color Guard featuring the American Flag and the National League of Families POW/MIA Flag.

Following the Pledge of Allegiance, Chaplain Crystal Smith of the NSDAR granted an invocation.

“We honor [veterans] for their faithful service in defending and preserving our freedom,” she said. “We ask that [God] bless them, heal their wounds, and give them peace.”

Shortly after that, Winchester Mayor JoEllen Reed and Clark County Judge-Executive Les Yates presented a joint proclamation recognizing them for their presence and honoring their legacy.

Each was able to address those in attendance, many surrounded by friends and family.

“As a citizen of Winchester and Clark County…I thank you all for what you’ve done for our county, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart,” said Reed. “Veterans are what it’s all about, and we should never, ever forget to honor [them] and say, ‘Thank You.’ I’m here today because you stood strong, and you stood tall, and you fought.”

Judge Yates echoed those thoughts.“Not only am I proud of all Vietnam veterans, but I am really grateful that I can stay here to carry on the names of all the guys that I served with,” said Yates, an Air Force veteran stationed in Germany at the time of the war.

Present near the back of the room was a plaque honoring the seven Clark County veterans killed during the war – PFC William Gene Aldridge, PFC Floyd Barker Jr., S/SGT Merle Edward Estes, PFC Bobby Lee Gentry, CPL Bobby Gene Newby, CPL Everett Allen Planck and Platoon SGT Sim Smeddley Steverson.

All except Estes, who was with the United States Air Force, were members of the U.S. Army.

A picture taken years ago of all remaining Vietnam veterans, some of whom have since passed, was also present.

Craig Shockley, a Field Representative from the office of U.S. House Representative Andy Barr, also made an appearance and delivered words.

“We thank you all for your service, thank you for setting the example,” Shockley said.

Before lunch, each veteran was announced individually, came forward, and was presented with a pin.

Specifically, the lapel pin was adorned with the words “Vietnam War Veteran” on the outside and an image of an eagle on the inside. Disney said “Welcome home” to each as the pin was provided.

They also received a certificate honoring their valor, service and sacrifice.

Those present to receive pins included Winchester natives Jerry Cecil and Roy Hudson.

Lunch was then provided, with all having the opportunity to view a live telecast of the concert and celebration from Washington, DC.

Ed Burtner, the former four-term mayor of Winchester, was one of the veterans present.

“As time passes, we lose more and more veterans, and so I think activities like this are important,” Burtner said. “On a personal level, when we see people wearing a ball cap or an article of clothing that would indicate that they’re a veteran, I think it’s important to walk up to them and say, ‘Thank you for your service.’”

Claude Shaw, a helicopter pilot who received a purple heart for wounds received when shot in the leg and was described by Burtner as “a hero of mine,” explained the brotherhood of those seeing combat.

“You learn to trust because it’s your life that you’re putting in their hands,” Shaw said.

After much time, the welcome home is appreciated.

“It means everything in the world,” he added.