It may have been nearly 45 years late but Vietnam War veterans were finally honored at the American Memorial Park last Wednesday.
The CNMI government, in conjunction with the Veteran’s Affairs Office, put together the first memorial service that commemorates both those who lost their lives during or after the Vietnam War and those who survived the war itself.
On March 29, 1973, the last batch of U.S. troops in Vietnam returned home after over eight years in combat during the second Indochina War, also called the Vietnam War.
A handful of the U.S. troops who served during the Vietnam War were from the Northern Marianas and, like many of their comrades, were not welcomed as heroes upon their return home.
These forgotten war heroes were finally given a tribute last Wednesday through a memorial service where a commemorative wreath-laying ceremony was done at the American Memorial Park Circle of Honor, a proclamation was signed in honor of Vietnam War veterans, and commemorative plaques and pins were distributed to Vietnam War veterans.
Frank Cepeda, the eldest son of late veteran Isidro Cepeda, and his mother received the commemorative service plaque on behalf of his father.
According to Cepeda, he was 10 years old when his father returned home from the Vietnam War. Cepeda vividly remembers his father’s return, of incidents when people threw garbage at him, called him names, and were just plain awful toward him and his comrades just because they did their duty for their country.
Cepeda said that even though many saw his father and other Vietnam War veterans as awful people for serving their country, he remained proud of his father and still is. Cepeda said he knows that his father would have been overjoyed if he were alive to witness the commemoration ceremony.
Cepeda was only one of the immediate family members of a handful of other Vietnam War veteran family members present during the commemoration ceremony last Wednesday.
According to Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, it is important that Vietnam War veterans are not forgotten because they were the heroes who fought with courage to serve their country even when it came down to making tough decisions.
Torres apologized for the long overdue Vietnam War veterans memorial service and assured the veterans and veteran families who were present Wednesday that Vietnam War veterans will continue to be honored in the CNMI.