It took more than 48 years after the end of the Vietnam War to honor Coahoma County residents who lost their lives in combat, but a Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans ceremony took place at Memorial Park in Clarksdale on Saturday morning.
The ceremony came three days before the Fourth of July. The nation will be celebrating its 247th birthday on Tuesday.
Photos of 15 veterans, along with the dates they lost their lives, were on display at the ceremony welcoming home Vietnam Veterans. Charlie Gause died on September 16, 1966; Henry Clay Sr. Cauthen died on July 31, 1967; Edward Grady Muse died on January 31, 1968; Luzon Beasley died on March 30, 1968; Lester Erby died on May 26, 1968; Robert Lee Williams died on July 19, 1968; Charles Brown died on February 28, 1969; Willie Rogers Hornburger died on May 11, 1969; Van Sylvester Turner Jr. died on January 19, 1970; Charles Earl Melton died on February 15, 1970; Winston Charles Walker died on April 5, 1970; Harvey Turner Ross Jr. died on June 11, 1970; Hollis Coleman Sanford Jr. died on August 4, 1970; Billie Joe Wilson died on April 7, 1971; and Maurice Herbert Byrant died on June 8, 1971.
The JROTC Color Guard posted the American Flag and retired the colors.
Retired Judge Jesse Burton led the Pledge of Allegiance and provided closing comments. He said he was in Coahoma County Supervisor District 1 representative Paul Pearson’s office when the idea of welcoming home Vietnam Veterans came up.
“To my surprise, he had a lot of the photographs of the people that gave their last full measure,” said Burton of Pearson. “He had them on his phone, and we came up with this idea to welcome the Vietnam veterans home, even though it was over 50 years ago. So we decided to put this program on.”
Pearson said welcoming the Vietnam Veterans home was badly needed for a long time.
“I thought, well, maybe I can get them all together and have them here today,” he said.
Pearson was glad he had the pictures of the veterans on his phone.
“I guarantee you, it’s wonderful we have the technology now,” he said.
After the ceremony, Pearson was pleased with the turnout and how everything went.
“They finally got their welcome home that they desperately needed,” he said. “These guys got a picture with a name. That means everything.”
Reflecting on the Vietnam War, Pearson said it would have been tough to have a welcome home ceremony in 1975.
“It had gotten to the point where the American public opinion of the war was not good,” he said. “It was the first war where you could go home every night and watch it on television while you ate supper. It was not favorable. The young generation came up, and there was protesting and all kinds of stuff going on. It was unfortunate, but a lot of times, it takes a loud voice to put a stop to the killing.”
No matter what the times were, Pearson believes the public did not lose sight of the sacrifice soldiers made by fighting in the Vietnam War.
“I think in the back of everybody’s mind, everybody in America did appreciate it,” he said. “There might have been a few people that didn’t, but as a whole, I think Americans always appreciated our veterans in Vietnam.”
State Rep. Orlando Paden and House Speaker Philip Gunn signed a proclamation welcoming the veterans home. Paden and State Sen. Robert Jackson were guest speakers at the ceremony.
“That’s what I like about my representative and my senator,” Burton said. “When you call them and need them, they’re right there on the spot.”
Jackson said he had a brother who served in Vietnam, lived in Illinois, and is suffering from many issues relating to the war. He thanked his brother and everyone who gave the ultimate sacrifice serving their country.
“Those of you who are still here, we appreciate your service to this country,” he said. “You represented democracy when it needed to be. You represented it across the seas. We’re enjoying the fruits of democracy as you sit here today. Even though we have a lot of issues and don’t believe in the same things, democracy affords us this opportunity to live this great life.”
Jackson said he has traveled abroad and seen great places across the world but is always ready to come home to the United States, which he called the greatest country in the world because of those who served their country in different capacities.
“To our veterans, we say thank you for being unique and distinctive and serving your country,” Paden said.
From November 1, 1955, to April 30, 1975, Paden said 2.7 million Americans served in Vietnam. He said it was documented that 58,220 passed on, and 153,000 were wounded.
“There are fewer than 850,000 living Vietnam War veterans living today,” he said. “Many times we recognize it was just individuals, but it was the entire family that served. We just want to say thank you for your service to this country. Because of you, we have the many liberties that we enjoy today.”
“We say welcome home and thank you for your service,” Paden continued.
Pearson and Clarksdale Ward 1 Commissioner Sgt. Major Bo Plunk both read resolutions that their respective boards passed welcoming the veterans home.
“We pay tribute to more than 3 million servicemen who left their families to serve bravely,” Plunk said. “They ran away from everything they knew and everyone that they loved.”
Plunk said it is important to recognize the continuing impact of those who served.
“Each Vietnam veteran who is with us today, we honor your service and all that you have done for our nation,” he said.
Board of Supervisors President Johnny Newson, who represents District 4, and Clarksdale Ward 4 Commissioner Ed Seals were also at the welcome home ceremony.
Andrew Chabers, 94, the oldest living veteran from the Korean War, was recognized during the ceremony.
Ann Upton spoke about her experience with Muse before he went to Vietnam.
Upton said Muse would throw the Clarksdale Press Register to her house on his route. Muse’s mother was in charge of the cafeteria at Kirkpatrick Health & Medical Science Magnet Elementary School.
“His parents did not want him to go to Vietnam,” Upton said. “He was an only child, and they didn’t want to lose him, but he wanted to go for the cause and for his friends, who all went up there.”
Muse did serve in Vietnam.
“They put him in an office job because they thought that would be the safest place, but a North Vietnamese soldier dressed as a South Vietnamese came in and shot all of them in the office,” Upton said.
During the ceremony, Ann Upton shared her experience regarding the displacement of South Vietnamese women and children during the war. She mentioned that Longstreet United Methodist Church in Memphis, Tenn., took in 25 of these individuals. According to Upton, the missionaries involved in the project had difficulty spreading the message of Christianity to the Vietnamese in their home country. However, when the war tore the country apart, and people were forced to flee their homes, many of them accepted the teachings of Christ.
The Rev. Samuel Kimmons conducted the opening and closing prayer at the ceremony, providing a spiritual aspect to the event and offering prayers of gratitude and remembrance for the veterans and their sacrifices.