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Embracing forgotten heroes
Call him a victim of inspiration or a legislator simply responding to the concerns of his constituents, freshman state Rep. Paul Fitzwater, R-Potosi, is on a mission to ensure that Vietnam veterans receive the official recognition they have long been denied.
Fitzwater's crusade to honor veterans begins with the story of Tom Seematter--a Vietnam veteran from Annapolis, Mo., and a resident of Fitzwater's district.
"Tom drew a photo of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and submitted it for display in the Capitol," stated Fitzwater. "He brought some of his family up to see it on display and discovered it had been removed and placed in storage."
According to Fitzwater, the veteran decided to protest the removal of the artwork and to raise awareness of the service of Vietnam veterans by organizing a walk to the capitol from his home in Annapolis.
"I walked the first couple of miles with (Seematter)," Fitzwater said. "I was really impressed with him and all Vietnam veterans as they didn't come back to ticker tape parades; they came home and went back to their lives," he added.
Due to the inspiration of Seematter's walk--and stories of the Vietnam War shared by his friend John Harlow and other veterans encountered along the campaign trail--the fledgling legislator chose to honor the spirit of their service by sponsoring HB249.
"I'm very excited about the possibility of this bill," Fitzwater remarked.
The bill would establish March 30 of each year as "Vietnam Veterans Day" in Missouri to recognize the "courage and patriotism of those who served during the Vietnam Conflict."
Fitzwater elaborated that the date was selected in recognition of the day that the last American troops withdrawn from Vietnam in 1973 returned to the United States.
"This is my favorite bill as it applies to veterans all over the state," the legislator emphasized. "If this bill passes, I can just envision Vietnam vets standing all around the capitol on March 30 as a reminder that we have not forgotten their sacrifices."
Vietnam veteran Tom Seematter's artwork is currently on display in the west wing of the Capitol and Fitzwater has a print of the artwork prominently displayed in his Capitol office.
"I will work hard to ensure that (Seematter's) artwork remains on display as long as I'm here," asserted Fitzwater. "And his print will always hang in my office as a reminder of the patriotism and dedication of all Vietnam veterans."
Additional information on HB249 and its status in the legislative process can be found on the Missouri House and Senate Joint Bill Tracking website at http://house.mo.gov/billcentral.aspx
Jeremy Amick served in the military for 11 years, is a life member of the Disabled American Veterans, and public affairs officer for the Silver Star Families of America.