Local leaders in a somber ceremony Monday urged residents to honor the sacrifices made by millions of American soldiers by serving their communities at a local level.
The event emphasized service as a tribute to those who died and were injured, and as a way to honor veterans who left their homes behind when the country called.
West Hartford Town Manager Ron Van Winkle, who was the grand marshal of the Memorial Day parade that was canceled due to rain, served during the Vietnam War in Georgia as a computer programmer before being sent to Germany. He said during his time at Fort McPherson in Georgia, he met many other soldiers who were finishing their tours there after seeing combat in Vietnam.
“That place, that time weighed heavily on those who served in the infantry in Vietnam, and late at night the stories of their service told of harrowing experiences and fear and decisions that no one should ever make or should have to make,” Van Winkle said.
He said 18 of the 58,300 American soldiers who died in Vietnam were from West Hartford. He also listed four soldiers from Kansas, Ohio, Kentucky and New Jersey who shared his last name and died in Vietnam.
“Spec-4 Ronald Van Winkle never made it to Vietnam. He served but he never got in country, and I am obligated as we are all obligated to remember those who gave their last full measure for the country: 58,300; those who were wounded in this war: 300,000; and those who served during this difficult and divisive time in our nation’s history around the world,” Van Winkle said.
Congressman John Larson said the local service of Vietnam-era veterans in particular sets an example of how people can get involved at home. They saw the abuse soldiers took when they returned home after fighting in an unpopular war, and have made it their mission to make sure veterans now get the recognition they deserve.
“It was Vietnam veterans and Korea veterans and those who served in Desert Storm who…