10.21.16

Detroit Free Press: Michigan Vietnam War veterans honored with commemorative pin

U.S. Senator Gary Peters hands out lapel pins with an eagle and the words Vietnam War Veteran to Michigan vets

Bruce Campbell served as a Navy corpsman, or medic, during the Vietnam War, running convoys and treating both wounded American soldiers and the Vietnamese.

Like many Vietnam War veterans, the 69-year-old Holly man didn't talk about his war experiences when he returned home. About a year ago, he said, he started going for counseling and was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder.

Today, the retired human resources manager at Ford Motor Co. can talk more about what happened, remembering the best of times being the camaraderie among the men, and the worst being when some men forgot their humanity.

"The Vietnam veterans were really not welcomed home. They were spat upon, called baby-killers," Campbell said. "Many Vietnam veterans just clammed up. For 20-30 years, Vietnam veterans simply kept to themselves, kept the hurt."

Many felt guilty, he said, guilty for having survived and many were made to feel guilty at their reception back home in the U.S.

So a simple gesture — being given a 50th anniversary commemorative lapel pin with an eagle and the words Vietnam War Veteran — had a lot of meaning for Campbell and more than 100 Vietnam War veterans from metro Detroit during a ceremony Friday at the U.S. Army TACOM Life Cycle Management Command Headquarters, the Detroit Arsenal in Warren. The ceremony was organized by U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Michigan,

The Vietnam Veteran lapel pins are presented to veterans as part of the national effort to honor the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, which is being marked from Memorial Day 2012 through Veterans Day 2025. The U.S. involvement began in the mid 1950s, escalated in 1965 with the commitment of ground combat troops and ended on April 30, 1975, with the fall of Saigon.

Similar ceremonies may be held in western and northern Michigan in the future, in addition to more in metro Detroit.

Robert Kierzek, 65, of St. Clair Shores wore a black vest with patches to shake hands with Peters and receive his pin from one of Peters' staffers. He was in the U.S. Army, a crew chief on the Huey helicopters, which provided air support. During his tour, he said, his bloodstream was exposed to Agent Orange, which caused ischemic heart disease and resulted in quadruple bypass surgery survery five years ago in California.

Kierzek said he has moved around the country a lot for his work as an aircraft mechanic and found that "the friendliest and most welcoming state" for Vietnam veterans has been Michigan.

Peters told the crowd of veterans and their families that they were not always given a hero's welcome and overcame some overwhelming challenges, saying "the fight didn't end when you came home." He said Vietnam veterans formed the Vietnam Veterans of America and pushed for PTSD diagnoses and veterans administration services.

He said Michigan is home to more veterans from the Vietnam War than any other era, veterans who served in dangerous guerrilla warfare never seen before in unbearable heat and soaking rain. Peters also remembered the 58,000 people who gave their lives in the war, more than 700 prisoners of war and more than 1,600 missing in action.

"You have all made great sacrifices on behalf of your country," Peters said. "Your country is sincerely grateful for all you did."

Peters’ office said it offers the Vietnam Veteran Lapel Pins to living U.S. veterans who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces at any time between Nov. 1, 1955 and May 15, 1975. Michigan veterans interested in receiving their lapel pin should complete the form available at www.peters.senate.gov/services/for-veterans/vietnam-veteran-lapel-pin.


By:  Christina Hall
Source: Detroit Free Press