An emotionally charged crowd of over 200 endured cool temperatures and intermittent rain at the Loyalty Day Service in the Forest Park pavilion Saturday. They came to pay homage to ten fallen soldiers and honor Clay County Veterans who served during the Vietnam War era.
Featured speaker Col. Don Moreau, U.S. Army, retired, spoke briefly but forcefully. He was involved in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam.
"I was associated with lots of young men during the course of my career," Moreau said. "I'm proud of that."
Moreau said initially he didn't know what to talk about at the service. Then decided he should go back to basics.
"I'm proud to be an American!" he said. "We're fighting in a war now that's made up mostly of volunteers. These young people made a commitment."
Moreau voiced deep concern at the country's divided stance on the war in Iraq.
"The county needs to give 100 percent support to our military when they're committed in a war," he said. "It's a national commitment. ...I don't want to see our nation go through Vietnam again. ...We're headed for that if we don't get our heads on straight.
"Whether we're right or wrong we need to support the elected officials and it's our job to support the military commitment. ...I don't want to hear the rhetoric whether it's right or wrong. If it's right, do it right. If it's not right, bring 'em home!"
The crowd applauded in response.
The families of 10 Clay County men who were killed in Vietnam were given certificates and a pin to honor the soldiers who gave their lives defending freedom. Those men were Sgt. Max W. Batchelor, HT2 Gary L. Boyce, Spc. 4 Zettie J. Dulin, PSgt. Harold Dickerson, Cpl. Jack G. Krider, Spc. 4 Dom E. Lee, Cpl. Chester R. McClelland, Pfc. Gary L. Rose, 1st Lt. Charles B. Ross and Spc. 4 Johnny L. Young.
"May they ever be remembered in our hearts and in our minds," Clay County Service Officer Les Walden said.
Certificates of appreciation and pins were then given to all Vietnam era veterans who were present. It was apparent that Jack Braden spoke for many of the vets when he asked for the microphone after he received his certificate and pin.
"I'd like to thank all of you here today," Braden said. "It's been 35 years since I was in Vietnam. This is the first time I've been thanked."
The crowd erupted into applause.
After the service the veterans and their families were treated to a free dinner in the pavilion. Vietnam veteran Glen Brown solemnly watched his wife pushing a grandchild in a stroller. He stood beside his son and observed two more grandchildren chasing each other, running happily about as he commented on Braden's words.
"He's right. No one ever said thanks but your kids and your family." Brown hesitated, trying to control his quivering mouth.
"I can't even talk about it," he said sadly. "I remember coming back and getting booed." It was difficult to tell if anger was submerged or if it had dissipated over the years. "I'm so glad to see this," Brown said. "It's really nice."