Monday, June 13, 2016

Honoring Nebraska’s Vietnam Veterans

U. S. Senator Deb Fischer
No matter how busy or loud Washington, D.C. becomes, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is usually quiet. The long, black wall, with the names of thousands of fallen heroes, is a visually striking monument and one of Washington’s most powerful places.
Here, the names of more than 58,000 American service members are engraved in black granite. Beside some of these names is the symbol of a cross, indicating missing in action. Most include the symbol of a diamond. The diamond designates someone who died and gave the ultimate sacrifice for our nation.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial holds the names of 395 Nebraskans. While this war remains a deeply controversial period in our history, each of these heroes deployed for the purposes of fighting communism and defending freedom.
Altogether, more than 40,000 Nebraskans served in our military during the Vietnam era. Most of them returned home. They started families and built careers. They formed a new foundation of pride for communities from Omaha to Scottsbluff. Unfortunately, not all of Nebraska’s Vietnam veterans are able to visit the memorial dedicated in their honor. Over the years, family obligations, financial constraints, and health concerns have prevented them from traveling to our nation’s capital.
Now, over fifty years since the war began, Bill and Evonne Williams of Omaha have taken a step to change that. With help from generous donors throughout Nebraska, they arranged to fly more than 500 of Nebraska’s Vietnam veterans to Washington to see the Vietnam Memorial. Their nonprofit organization, Patriotic Productions, chartered three commercial airplanes, organized other accommodations, and tapped numerous volunteers to assist in this enormous undertaking.
Hundreds of these veterans arrived in Washington, D.C. on June 6, the 72nd anniversary of D-Day. It was my honor to greet them as they arrived on the National Mall that morning. We gathered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and, from there, we walked to the wall. The veterans searched carefully across the thousands of names carved into the smooth, granite surface. They looked for comrades. They looked for friends. When they found a name, many of them pressed pieces of paper flat against the wall. With pencils, they took rubbings of the name, and of the diamond or cross beside it.
They told their stories. We shared tears. Many were memories of great courage and tragedy. Not all of these stories were sad, though. Some shared fond memories of the special time they spent with their fellow service members. One veteran pointed to a name and told me how, as a young pilot, he and this friend tried to impress some girls by flying acrobatics. They had just 9 hours of flight experience, but managed to land the plane in one piece. The girls loved watching their air show.
This honor flight is a profound display of respect for military service. When these 500 Vietnam veterans returned home at the end of their long day in Washington, they received a hero’s welcome. Family, friends, volunteers, and grateful citizens greeted them at Eppley Airfield to celebrate this proud moment.
I was humbled to walk with these heroes and grateful for the opportunity to thank them, in person, for their service to our country. I am also proud of all those who helped make this trip possible. Their work reflects the character for which Nebraskans are known all over the world.
Thank you for taking part in our democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.

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