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Community gathers to honor national Vietnam War Veterans Day in Gainesville

A pair of Vietnam veterans gaze at the row of flags of each branch of U.S. Military in front of the Freedom Community Center prior to the tribute gathering. (Photo courtesy of Alachua County Veterans Services)

It’s been over 50 years since half a million U.S. military personnel were deployed in Vietnam, undergoing gruesome conditions, new-age war tactics, and unforgettable challenges in a foreign land.

Since 2017, March 29 has been recognized as Vietnam War Veterans Day. It’s the day the last troops were pulled from Vietnam.

Farmers and construction workers, bankers and teachers who once shared the same streets and homes of Alachua County and beyond took up the courage to fight for their country.

More than 58,000 Americans lost their lives during the Vietnam conflict.

Many never returned home, but their memories live on today through Alachua County officials determined to not let these names and faces fade.

Alachua County Veteran Services did its due diligence, preserving the memories and commitments of those who served though the 2024 Vietnam Veterans Tribute held in the Freedom Center at Veterans Memorial Park in Gainesville on Friday morning.

Veterans from across the community ranging from the Vietnam, Korean and Gulf Wars attended to share their thoughts and concerns about veteran care in today’s society.

Host speaker and senior veteran service officer for Alachua County Kenneth Boggs said meeting with veterans face-to-face has been effective in building trust within the community.

“It’s been instrumental in being able to reach out to veterans as a whole and bring them together,” Boggs said. “We can actually go and assist you with whatever you may need, and work together saying that we haven’t forgotten you, specifically our Vietnam guys.”

Kenneth Boggs, senior veteran service officer of the Alachua County Veteran Service Office, addresses veterans and family members at the 2024 Vietnam Veterans Tribute explains the importance of veterans connecting with members of the community and city officials to find necessary resources. (Jesse Simmons/WUFT News)

“It's a great day today for the veterans office and staff to come out and put on this program,” said Charlie Jackson, a combat veteran who served in Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield in Iraq. “However, we're not getting the word out in our communities that veterans are still suffering from a number of conditions”

Jackson expressed his gratitude, but also challenged every veterans office across the country to do everything they can to help.

One of the main concerns for former soldiers in Friday’s gathering was the long term care and awareness of resources for those suffering from conditions like shell-shock, a term that gained prominence during the Vietnam War and is commonly known today as PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 30% of Vietnam War veterans have experienced PTSD.

Guest speaker Jennifer Adkins, chief of psychology for the North Florida, South Georgia Veterans Healthcare System spoke at the tribute. Adkins elaborated on mental health concerns with PTSD and the importance of hearing the voices firsthand.

“One of my favorite things about events like this is that I get to hear from the people who were there,” she said. “When you don't experience it, when you don't live with it, you easily forget what's going on.”

“Having the ability to be out here and meet with people in these kinds of settings is just so valuable,” Adkins said.” “We are here for you whenever you are ready.”

Contributing to that, Vietnam veterans were often not greeted with a warm welcome home due to social and political disagreements in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Today, Adkins pointed out the importance of listening and honoring their service, proving that efforts are being made to care for those willing to speak up about their experiences.

Charlie Johnson, left, shakes hands with Forest Hope following the event on Friday. (Jesse Simmons/WUFT News)
Charlie Johnson, left, shakes hands with Forest Hope following the event on Friday. (Jesse Simmons/WUFT News)

”We appreciate everything that is done,” said Forest Hope, president of the Vietnam Veterans of American Chapter 1092 Alachua County, who served with the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam from 1966-68.

“50 years ago, whenever we came home, there was a stigma to what we faced, being degraded, spit on, had things thrown at us,” he said. “But today, we're here to take in and celebrate the ones that did come back and honor those that did not from Vietnam.”

“A lot of those wars and experiences still exist with them,” Boggs later said. “Even though they're peaceful members of the community, they relive those on a day-to-day basis and it's very hard for them until that circle of trust within the community is mutually given.”

“We want to protect the people that we love,” Boggs said. “We want to see the communities we love grow and have positive experiences overall. So having those voices heard, and letting those dealings be known will make us stronger moving forward.”

Any veteran seeking further information or assistance can contact the Alachua County Veteran Services Office at 352-264-6740.

A trio of Korean War veterans listen to the opening statements at the 2024 Vietnam War Veterans Tribute in the Freedom Community Center on Friday. (Photo courtesy of Alachua County Veterans Services)

Jesse is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing