On March 29, 1973, the last U.S. troops left Vietnam, ending 11 years of war that saw 58,000 Americans killed. On Tuesday, March 29, the country recognized the men and women who fought in Vietnam for Vietnam Veterans Day. On Saturday, Macon County recognized Vietnam Veterans with a ceremony downtown. Maconians lined the streets to welcome home local veterans and to thank them for their service.
Macon County Commissioner and Vietnam Veteran Gary Shields welcomed the crowd to the annual celebration. In 2012, President Barack Obama signed a proclamation declaring March 29 as Vietnam Veterans Day, as it is the day that the final troops returned to the United States from Vietnam. The initial push to recognize the day as a federal holiday began in Franklin by a group of local veterans.
As part of Franklin’s ‘Welcome Home’ celebration for Vietnam Veterans, after a parade up Main Street, Harry Taylor, feature writer for The Macon County News, told of his experiences of getting to know the local veterans including the late Nat Henry, a POW who passed away in January. Taylor had written about many of the Vietnam Veterans present and expressed gratitude for the opportunity to relay their stories.
“These men have passed down a legacy, both individually and corporately, to us ― a legacy of courage, commitment, a legacy of patriotism and duty. Our community, all of us as individuals joined together, should be as equally committed to keeping their legacy alive for generations to come,” said Taylor. “Thank you. Thank you gentlemen for the stories your lives have written for us. Thank you for your service to the United States, to North Carolina and to Macon County. God Bless You All.”
Parade grand marshal and guest speaker Lt. Col. Ret. Thomas Pyle took the podium and told his story as a Prisoner of War in Vietnam.
“My time as a prisoner in North Vietnam was an opportunity for me,” Pyle began. “That may sound odd, but that 6 1/2 years gave me an opportunity to think, mainly because there wasn’t much else to do, especially in the early years. I thought about many things. I thought about myself, formed opinions, made decisions. Being a POW gave me an opportunity I probably wouldn’t have had otherwise. I would have been just like everyone else, caught up in the rat race of getting ahead, thinking about the next promotion cycle and my career. Since my return I have compared my opinions to that of others and have found they have stated it much better than I.”
Pyle told the story of Quang Nguyen who spoke to a group of Vietnam Veterans in 2010. Pyle shared Nguyen’s speech about his journey to becoming an American and how everyone should take pride in their citizenship and whatever challenges and hardships they have to face and conquer in order to get to where they want to be.
Nguyen told Vietnam Veterans that before he learned the 46 pages of the United States Constitution to earn his citizenship, he first learned of the 500,000 Americans who fought for him as a little boy and learned the 58,000 names scribed on the black wall at the Vietnam Memorial because to him, they were his heroes, his founders.