Veterans and families gathered at Camp Blanding Joint Training Center in Starke Friday morning for the camp’s annual Veteran’s Day Ceremony. Col. Matt Johnson, Commander of Camp Blanding, set-up this year’s event as a special commemoration of veterans from the Vietnam War.
The ceremony began at 11 a.m. with a processional by the Junior ROTC from Fleming Island, followed by the national anthem. Col. Johnson opened the ceremony by recognizing the families of retired or active duty military. A majority of the audience stood or raised their hand as the entire crowd applauded.
Col. Johnson touched on the importance of showing unending gratitude towards veterans, especially those who fought in Vietnam and were not welcomed home after the war. He then introduced Dr. George Kressman, president of the Camp Blanding Museum Association, who delivered opening remarks and welcomed close to 150 attendees.
The featured speaker was Vietnam veteran, Gary Newman, who served in the United States Military from 1959 to 1978. Newman now serves as president of Clay County’s Chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America.
“As I talk to you today, you may find some points where I may get a little teary-eyed,” Newman began. “I may get a little angry, but that’s the way most of us [veterans] are at times.”
He teared up as he recalled the despair and hopelessness he felt upon returning to the United States after the Vietnam war. Newman emphasized the lack of resources and support he and his companions faced–many of whom struggled with alcoholism, depression, PTSD and lack of necessary skills for the practically non-existent jobs.
“Society didn’t want us,” he added.
Newman also spoke about his experiences while serving on the USS Maddox in 1964, where he recalls not being able to shower during his first six months on board and washing his clothes in contaminated rivers. He spoke of the attacks by North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin. And he spoke of friends who ended up abandoned, imprisoned or dead as a result of returning home after the war to a country that did not support them.
“We must unify and come together and fight as one team,” he concluded.
Lt. Col. Scott Taylor closed out the ceremony by commemorating each branch of the military. Active military and veterans were asked to stand, or raise their hand if they were unable to stand, when the respective song for their branch of the military was played over the speakers. The crowd applauded for several minutes.
After the ceremony, Col. Johnson presented all Vietnam Veterans in attendance with a special lapel pin. Each Veteran was greeted with a handshake and a “thank you for your service” by speaker and the Junior ROTC.
Several tables were set up on the grounds with donated and captured war memorabilia from the Camp Blanding Museum for attendees to view. Among these items were military uniforms and refurbished weaponry primarily from World War II, said Chad Edwards, the museum’s armourer.
The Camp Blanding Museum is located on the Camp Blanding Joint Training grounds and is open to the public regularly. Camp Blanding was established in 1940 as a regional training center for troops in the south, and is now primarily a regional training for National Guard troops in Florida.