Hundreds of events were held across the U.S. on Tuesday to commemorate Vietnam Veterans Day, an unofficial observance that marks the final withdrawal of combat units and support personnel from South Vietnam in 1973.
Part of an ongoing effort to honor U.S. troops who served during the Vietnam War era, the events — from a wreath laying by Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., to photo exhibits and memorials at VA centers and cemeteries — are meant to recognize those "who have 'borne the battle,'" McDonald said.
"When Vietnam veterans came home 50 years ago they didn¹t get the kind of welcome that veterans get today," McDonald said. "What Ash and I tried to do today was to welcome home all those veterans and make sure that they felt the thanks and appreciation that veterans today feel."
The Defense Department is overseeing a 13-year commemoration to recognize those who served on active duty from Nov. 1, 1955, to May 15, 1975, many of whom returned home from the unpopular war without fanfare or appreciation.
Since 2011, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., has tried to designate March 29 officially as Vietnam Veterans Day, but his proposed legislation has failed to gain steam in Congress.
In 2012, President Obama issued a proclamation formally observing the day in response to a request from Burr and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
"Our veterans answered our country's call and served with honor. … Yet, in one of the war's most profound tragedies, many of these men and women came home to be shunned or neglected — to face treatment unbefitting their courage and a welcome unworthy of their example. We must never let this happen again," Obama wrote in 2012.
The Vietnam War Commemoration will run through Veterans Day 2025, and more than 5,300 activities have been planned to date. A full listing of events, as well as an interactive historical timeline of the Vietnam War, fact sheets, map and more, can be found at the DoD Vietnam War Commemmoration website.
According to the VA, more than 329 medical centers, regional benefit offices and national cemeteries planned to participate in events Tuesday.
"Our nation is currently commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, a long overdue opportunity to honor the 7.2 million living Vietnam veterans and the 9 million families of those of us who served. … Thank a Vietnam veteran and welcome them home," McDonald said.
Patricia Kime covers military and veterans health care and medicine for Military Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.