Vietnam War vets accorded honor

It took more than 40 years since the end of the Vietnam War but its veterans finally took center stage and were honored with other veterans last Saturday at the celebration of Veterans Day at the American Memorial Park.

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, who gave welcoming remarks at the ceremony, also expressed gratitude to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3457.

The Office of Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) presented Vietnam War veterans with certificates of recognition, including several key government members such as Rep. Lorenzo Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan), Saipan Mayor David M. Apatang, and former senator Pete Reyes.

Apatang, who vividly recalls the experience, said that Vietnam War veterans were never accorded the honors that most military service members get today.

“Back in the ’70s, when we came home, there was no welcoming or any kind of recognition,” he said.

He said the recognition and honor that they are finally receiving means a great deal to them.

Apatang has never shared his experiences of the war but he said that he knows the hardships every veteran has faced and the belated recognition helps them feel like the hardships they have faced weren’t for nothing.

Torres, who asked last Saturday for a “moment of silence” to remember those that have fallen for freedom, said it is the nation’s veterans that are credited for the freedoms that everyone enjoy today.

“[Those are freedoms] our veterans fought for…hundreds of years ago, and that is what our armed forces are fighting for today—to continue that freedom that we have,” he said,

U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona Manglona, who was the keynote speaker, honored those that have fallen since 1776.

“It was the first battle that occurred that created our first veterans,” said Manglona, moving also honored tghe veterans of the Civil War, World Wars I and II, Korean War, Vietnam War, and “the war against terrorism.”

“We are the beneficiaries of this vigilance and determination to uphold the democratic beliefs that we and our nation is founded,” she said, adding that the U.S. is “blessed like no other country.”

“To all those who have faithfully served, to those that are saving today, and to the families and friends that have stood by your side each day, we salute you and we thank you,” she said.

Veterans and Military Affairs Office executive director Oscar Torres, himself a veteran, said: “We stagger at the eternal debt we owe to the untold number of American veteran who chose to set aside their personal ambitions and dreams to assure the wellbeing of our great nation. …We, the living, are indeed the beneficiaries of those who made tremendous sacrifices for the advancement and surety of our liberty.”

Apatang said the Vietnam War may be over, but many of his comrades continued to suffer, years after the war.

More, they were never recognized since they returned home. “Back in the ’70s, when we came home, there was no welcoming or any kind of recognition,” said Apatang.

The Vietnam War left many veterans traumatized, he said.

“That resulted in a lot of issues for a lot of Vietnam War vets. We suffered. Up until now, a lot of us continue to suffer, whether medical issues, post-traumatic stress disorders, or other issues,” he said.

According to Apatang, many of his fellow servicemen have passed on due to the many mental issues caused by the war.

“It’s been a long time since the war and we were never recognized. A lot of Vietnam War vets committed suicide. I think we got the highest rate of suicide because we didn’t get treatment, we didn’t get attention,” said Apatang.

He said the recognition they have finally received means a great deal to them.

“For us Vietnam War vets, we were treated like stepchildren because the Vietnam War wasn’t a popular war. Finally, we’re getting recognized for the things that we have done,” he said.

“As a Vietnam War vet, I never discussed my experiences but I served two years in Vietnam and being in the war, it’s not easy. There are a lot of things that you think about at the end of the day and it just makes your mind turn over,” said Apatang.

“It still makes my stomach turn over and my hairs stand but it’s about time we got some recognition, at least a certificate or something, that recognizes our service,” said Apatang.

Apatang was only one of the dozens of Vietnam War veterans who received the recognition they long deserve last Saturday at the American Memorial Park.

ERWIN ENCINARES and KIMBERLY A. BAUTISTA

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