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41 Vietnam vets receive medallions
Middle-aged men left their homes in Perryville, Advance, Scott City, Jackson, Cape Girardeau and elsewhere Saturday for something they never received when they came home from the service during the Vietnam War: a bit of recognition that they did their part.
Gov. Matt Blunt came to the Missouri National Guard Armory in Cape Girardeau to deliver a pin, a medallion and a certificate to 41 local men who served during the Vietnam War era. More than 100 of the veterans' family members came to see them honored.
Blunt recalled Winston Churchill's 1946 "Iron Curtain" speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., in saying Vietnam veterans helped slow the spread of communism. "The Cold War was not only a noble cause, it was a necessary cause," he said. "The Vietnam veterans being recognized here today were part of that struggle."
Vietnam veterans came home not to parades or even handshakes but to an America that had turned against the war and turned its back on its warriors.
"They were met with jeers and, at best, ambivalence," Blunt said. He called the absence of honor on their return "a national disgrace."
Before awarding each veteran who came forward a pin, a certificate and a medallion, Blunt said: "We cannot heal the wounds of 30 years ago. We can acknowledge your contribution." A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who served five years of active duty, Blunt patted each man on the shoulder after shaking his hand.
Joining Blunt in honoring the men were state Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, Lt. Col. Eddie Boyer of the 203rd Engineer Battalion, Capt. Scott Ratliff, administrative officer of the 1140th Engineer Battalion, Command Sgt. Maj. Dan Armour of the 1140th Engineer Battalion and Sgt. 1st Class Mark Crites of the 1140th Engineer Battalion.
After the ceremony, family members surrounded Advance's Leo Goolsby, a broad-shouldered Marine who came home from Vietnam 40 years ago. A granddaughter put her arms around him when he had difficulty talking about painful memories of coming home from the war. "It was like you were never gone," he said.
He works with Will Morris Jr., who served two tours in Vietnam. Morris' wife Janet, grandson Devin Yamnitz and daughter Misty Morris attended the ceremony. "I don't think they were recognized enough for what they did," Janet said of the vets before the ceremony.
Twenty-four hours after leaving Vietnam, her husband was back in his hometown of East Prairie, Mo. Morris, who now lives in Scott City, says he wasn't particularly mistreated on returning home. "I was privileged to serve with people like Janet's brother and Leo Goolsby," he said. "In the war we were brothers."
Janet recently lost her brother, Carl Schott, to cancer. She remembers him coming home from the war with burns.
Morris enjoyed Saturday's ceremony. "I'm more happy for the other people around me who had the same experience I did," he said.
Cape Girardeau real estate agent Thomas M. Meyer served as a Seabee in the Navy in Cambodia and Thailand, where he helped clear land for the Marines and for landing strips. He said the event was a good idea, but the reunion and recognition of the SEMO Veteran Corps at the Southeast Missouri State University Homecoming in 2006 touched him the most. "It took us off guard emotionally," he said. "That was our homecoming."
Robert Dean of Perryville finished serving in the Marines just as the war was heating up. "You just weren't welcome in uniform in those days," he said.
He welcomed taking part in the ceremony. "It helps that the state of Missouri has recognized us," he said.
Vietnam War, Korean War and World War II veterans are all eligible for awards through state programs. For information, phone 866-834-3431 or visit www.moguard.com. Vietnam War-era veterans are eligible if they served in the U.S. military any time from Feb. 28, 1961, to May 7, 1975. Veterans, the spouses or the eldest living survivor of deceased veterans may apply. Veterans are eligible regardless of service in a foreign country or within the U.S.
335-6611, extension 137