FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (March 31, 2023) — Vietnam War-era veterans were honored by Army and Air Force Exchange Service employees, along with members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3176, on Wednesday at the Main Exchange, in recognition of Vietnam War Veterans Day. This year marks 50 years since the U.S. military ended its combat operations in Vietnam, on March 29, 1973.
As commemorative pins were given to all veterans who served during what’s often called the Vietnam War era — Nov. 1, 1955, to May 15, 1975 — Main Exchange Store Manager Stacy Firemoon-Saulsberry said it’s a pleasure to do this each year.
“It’s important for us to recognize our Vietnam vets,” she said. “The sacrifices they made for our nation — the least we can do is give back with a pin and presidential proclamation.”
Retired Command Sgt. Maj. James Breckenridge, who served as the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and Fort Leonard Wood command sergeant major from 2018 to 2020, and is now the VFW Post 3176 junior vice commander, was on hand to support the event. He said it’s imperative Americans remember that Vietnam veterans didn’t get a welcome home when they initially returned from overseas.
“I really love that the (Main Exchange) does this, because we can never, ever stop thanking our Vietnam veterans for what they did and we should never stop,” Breckenridge said.
One of the veterans receiving a pin was Jackie Thomas, who served as an Army Combat Engineer and received a Purple Heart during his time in Vietnam. Thomas said veteran recognition has come a long way since the 1970s.
“This is an excellent program and I’m glad to be a part of it,” he said. “Coming back from Vietnam, I was kind of dishonored, because I didn’t get the welcome home thing. We went and did the job and came back — and some of us came back all broken up. I was fortunate that I was not. I did get a Purple Heart over there, but I was still mobile; I could still get around.”
Thomas said he meets a lot of veterans who simply want their family to be taken care of financially, and he highlighted a program designed to allow spouses to collect their veteran’s 100-percent disability pay, even after the veteran passes away.
“That is a good program,” he said. “That’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
Another veteran at the ceremony was Jim Ashby, who served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War. He said events like this make him feel appreciated, but that every veteran — and their families — should be recognized for their service.
“I think the (spouses) of the military members need to be recognized also, because they take care of the home, the children and they worry about us,” he said.
Firemoon-Saulsberry said any Vietnam War-era veteran who was unable to attend the ceremony is welcome to visit the Main Exchange customer service desk, where additional pins and copies of the presidential proclamation will be kept for the remainder of the week.
More photos from the pin presentations here are available on the Fort Leonard Wood Flickr page.
(Editor’s note: Angi Betran, Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs Office, contributed to this article.)
About Fort Leonard Wood
Fort Leonard Wood is a thriving and prosperous installation that has evolved from a small basic training post more than 80 years ago to a premier Army Center of Excellence that trains nearly 80,000 military and civilians each year.
Fort Leonard Wood is home to the U.S Army Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and three U.S. Army schools: the U.S. Army Engineer School; U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear School; and the U.S. Army Military Police School. In addition to training engineer, CBRN and military police specialties for the Army, Fort Leonard Wood also provides gender-integrated in-processing and Basic Combat Training for new Soldiers.
Fort Leonard Wood also hosts and trains with the largest Marine Corps Detachment and Air Force Squadron on any Army installation as well as a large Navy construction detachment.
More information about Fort Leonard Wood is at: https://home.army.mil/wood/index.php/about/mission