A generation that served with honor

Haywood veterans commemorate Vietnam anniversary
By Shelby Harrell Staff Writer | Aug 14, 2014
Photo by: Shelby Harrell Vietnam veterans stand up to be recognized during a recent celebration honoring Vietnam Veterans after 50 years. Gov. Pat McCrory recently declared Aug. 10 as Vietnam Veteran's Recognition Day.

Dozens of local U.S. military veterans filed into the pews at the Haywood County Courthouse on Sunday afternoon to honor a generation of men who served in the Vietnam War from 1961-1975.

The gathering was intended to pay tribute to the more than 3 million servicemen and women who left their families to serve with courage and to honor those who gave their lives.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory recently issued a proclamation declaring Aug. 10 as Vietnam Veterans Recognition Day because that same day in 1964 was the day the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was passed — giving Lyndon B. Johnson the authorization to use conventional military force in Southeast Asia.

Before keynote speaker Vietnam veteran Charles A. Van Bibber gave his speech, Brandon Wilson, Haywood County's Veterans Services Officer, expressed his gratitude toward Vietnam veterans.

“When I came home, I was anxious about how I was going to be treated,” Wilson said about his return after serving in Afghanistan. “But our generation has come home to welcome hands and I want to thank you from my generation for doing that for us.”

Waynesville resident Van Bibber re-lived some Vietnam experiences while reading several excerpts from his book “Valentine’s Day: A Marine Looks Back,” which was released just this year.

“What happened there was too much… and you all know exactly what I’m talking about,” Van Bibber told the veteran crowd. “We need to remember the families who agonized for their friends, brothers, and husbands, all the while not knowing if they’d be coming back."

While reading Van Bibber recited a prayer he used to say before going out on a mission.  “Now I lay me down to creep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die when morning breaks, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

Van Bibber also read a section of his book that expressed his fear of being alone and yet being afraid for his friends.

“It was always comfortable to have men with me, but it also put a knot in my stomach,” he read. “I had already lost men in my group and I was no looking forward to that again.”

During the ceremony, Wilson read off 21 names of Haywood County men who gave their lives during the Vietnam War, and the crowd offered a moment of silence to revere their sacrifice.

“Those aren’t just a plaque on a wall,” Van Bibber said, referring to the Vietnam memorial outside of the courthouse. “It’s in what they did, the courage they displayed. They deserve medals upon medals.”

After the ceremony, veteran Salem Wyatt said he was thankful that the Vietnam veterans were being honored, though he admitted to feeling like it was not owed to him.

Wyatt, a Waynesville native, went to Vietnam when he was 22, and served in combat from 1969-70, where he received a Purple Heart and a Silver Star Medal, which is the third highest military decoration for valor that can be awarded to any person serving in any capacity with the United States Armed Forces.

“We appreciate what’s being done today, because we weren’t really appreciated when we came home before,” Wyatt said.

When asked whether he thought it was all worth it, Wyatt said, “I don’t even know what we set out to accomplish.”

Vietnam veteran Don Grasty of Maggie Valley said he too was grateful that society had come around to appreciating their service in Vietnam.

“I feel good that Vietnam veterans are being recognized at this stage in our lives,” Grasty said. “Forty years ago, it was about as low as you could get. The U.S. has really changed toward our soldiers.”

Grasty served as an engineer in Vietnam from 1960-70.

“I’ll never forget the heat, or the monsoon of rain that would come right out of a clear sky,” Grasty said.