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Vietnam veterans recognized at 50th commemoration ceremony

By JOHNATHAN MINEHAN - | Apr 2, 2024

Eco Park played host to the 50th Commemoration honoring the veterans who served in the Vietnam War. JOHNATHAN MINEHAN

The veterans most ignored upon their return home from service to their country were honored Friday at a Vietnam War 50th Commemoration ceremony hosted by the Daughters of the American Revolution.

The event, which focused on giving a shout-out to the troops and their families, took place at Eco Park from 10 a.m. to noon.

The event was surrounded by memorabilia located at the famous Iwo Jima monument, and veterans could take pride in seeing their nation’s praise for them and the sacrifice they made for their country.

The event started with an introduction from Betsea Kinne, the commemorative chair, Lawrence Kearny Chapter, NSDAR. After the pledge and national anthem, Guns and Hoses played to honor first responders. Patriotic bagpipes and beats of drums could be heard echoing from the Eco Park pavilion.

This moment honored each branch that served and allowed veterans to stand up and receive applause from their fellow attendees.

Group photo of the veterans who attended the event and sacrificed for their country. JOHNATHAN MINEHAN

Several veterans were honored with the presentation of lapel pins and certificates by regents, including the Lawrence Kearny Chapter, Caloosahatchee Chapter, Estero Island Chapter, and USS Hannah Chapter NSDAR.

One of those honored was Robert Ordway, a 16-year veteran of the U.S. Army who was originally stationed in Vietnam. Ordway enjoyed sharing his story and hearing the stories of many other veterans like him.

“When we first came back in the early ’70s, we were more invisible,” said Ordway. “People didn’t want to admit their mistake, I suppose. I’m not sure why. Even service organizations turned us away. I tried to join the VFW in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and they said it wasn’t a declared war so they wouldn’t allow me to join. The American Legion did the same thing.”

Many troops shared about the struggles they faced coming back from the Vietnam War and the trials and tribulations it took to get back into society after the war. Ordway has been happy to get involved with his community and help veterans who may have experienced things similar to him.

“I’m a mentor in Veterans Court. It’s based in Lee County, and it helps veterans get through their problems in a more structured environment,” Ordway said.

Daniel Bernard (left) and Robert Ordway, two veterans who enjoyed the commemoration. JOHNATHAN MINEHAN

Bridget Washburn is heavily involved with Veterans Court and gave some insight into the program.

“One of the most unique parts of it is that we bring mentors. For example, Robert graduated from our program and comes back in, and he’s like a battle buddy for those that are going through the program. It’s a much more intensive version of probation. We’re just going to provide services for them, resources for them, and kind of help them through probation and supervision,” Washburn said.

The Vietnam War was the longest war in history and resulted in almost 60,000 American casualties. According to the United States Department of Defense, 8,744,000 troops served worldwide. The war between North and South Vietnam included the U.S. as an ally against North Vietnam’s communist party.

Daniel Bernard was another veteran at the event. He served in the U.S. Army for three years, starting in 1967, and had one tour in Vietnam.

“I got there in December of ’67. And I was wounded in the last of July of ’68. So, yeah, pre-assault. Plus, I worked after I got out of the Army. As a civilian, I worked on nuclear submarines for 27 years. So, it was all government work,” Bernard said. “My experience in the Army was very good. I liked the structure and the discipline. I think they did a great job, and as long as we can keep beating Navy in football, we’ll be doing great.”

Guns and Hoses play to honor the troops. JOHNATHAN MINEHAN

For Bernard, returning to being a citizen after the war has taught him a lot about the hard work of being a veteran and the dedication of those who served.

“They are good workers. I did a lot of hiring and firing. I was at a shipyard on the border of Maine and New Hampshire. I interviewed both veterans and non-veterans, and there’s a marked difference. Veterans turned out amazing; they did a good job because of their discipline,” said Bernard.

Moments that create a bond between veterans are special for many like Bernard who don’t know everyone who served but feel the sacrifices they made and the hardships they endured.

When he first arrived in Fort Myers in 2009, they were doing a service for a young Army sergeant.

“I had never met her before, but she was a military person, and I had gone to the funeral. I just felt like I owed her something for giving her life,” Bernard said.

Certificates and lapel pins were given to veterans to honor their service. JOHNATHAN MINEHAN

The event gave notice to recognize DAR chapters and members, and a representative for the Cape Coral government gave a proclamation in place of Mayor John Gunter who could not attend due to last-minute time constraints.

The Missing Man Table was also honored, and the symbolism that goes into the formation of the table was talked about. The white cloth symbolizes the purity of their motives of call to duty, the red rose for those who keep the faith while seeking answers; the lemon slice represents a bitter fate, captured and missing; the pinch of salt is tears for the missing and uncertainty,the lighted candle reflects hope for return, live or dead; the Bible represents strength, the inverted glass their inability to raise a toast; and the empty chair, their unclaimed place at the table.

The crowd listens to Gen. Dempsey's speech. JOHNATHAN MINEHAN