On Oct. 21, Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, a Democrat, distributed commemorative lapel pins to more than 100 Vietnam War veterans at the the U.S. Army TACOM Life Cycle Management Command headquarters in Detroit, the Detroit Free Press reported. The ceremony was the result of a national campaign to honor those who served in the conflict, which began in 1955 and lasted until April 30, 1975 when Saigon, the former capital of South Vietnam, fell to North Vietnamese forces.
“You have all made great sacrifices on behalf of your country,” Peters told attendees during the ceremony. “Your country is sincerely grateful for all you did.”
Over 58,000 American service members died in the war, according to data from the National Archives. The millions of survivors who poured back into the U.S. as the conflict came to close – many suffering from serious physical and psychological wounds – were not welcomed with open arms. By 1969, only 39 percent of Americans supported the country’s involvement in Vietnam, The New York Times reported. This meant many returning veterans faced outright hostility from war-weary civilians.
“There are more than 6.2 million Vietnam veterans in the U.S.”
“The Vietnam veterans were really not welcomed home. They were spat upon, called baby-killers,” Bruce Campbell, a Navy veteran who served during the Vietnam War and received a pin at the Oct. 21 ceremony, told the Detroit Free Press. “Many Vietnam veterans just clammed up. For 20-30 years, Vietnam veterans simply kept to themselves, kept the hurt.”
However, in recent years, government agencies and nonprofit groups have worked to bring these service members out of the shadows and thank them for their sacrifice. On May 25, 2012, President Obama issued a presidential proclamation that established a long-term national campaign to honor veterans of the Vietnam War. The Department of Veterans Affairs kicked off the initiative on Memorial Day that year, over 50 years after the last U.S. military personnel departed from Saigon. It is scheduled to continue through Nov. 11, 2025.
The campaign has inspired thousands of events across the country, including Peters’ Oct. 21 ceremony. As he passed out pins, the senator took time to meet with the attendees, praising them for their service and highlighting the many things Vietnam veterans have done to help their fellow service members. Peters specifically discussed how many had gone on to start key veteran advocacy organizations and bring to light essential issues such as the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder among those who have experience combat.
Earlier this month, the Michigan lawmaker tackled this very issue, co-sponsoring the No Veterans Crisis Line Call Should Go Unanswered Act, which would earmark federal funds for improving the VA’s troubled Veterans Crisis Line.
Today, there are more than 6.2 million Vietnam veterans in the U.S., according to the Census Bureau. Michigan is home to just over 242,000, the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics found.