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Gary Cooper Jones says he finally can come clean about his time in the military.

The 69-year-old from Detroit wore a black U.S. Marines hat and matching Vietnam War veteran shirt at a Detroit VA Center ceremony Thursday.

“I was out in the jungle. You and me will both start crying if I tell you about the things I have seen. We were in combat,” said Jones, who was in the infantry in Vietnam from 1965-66.

He was one of 75 veterans who were recognized for their service with special lapel pins.

“This ceremony means so much to me because I went into hiding for 34 years. I didn’t want anyone to know I was in Vietnam and I didn’t want to talk about it,” he said.

“I’m thankful we are being acknowledged after all of these years.”

By presidential proclamation, the Vietnam War commemoration extends from Memorial Day 2012 through Veterans Day 2025.

Dr. Pamela Reeves, director of the Detroit VA Healthcare System, placed the quarter-sized pins that read “Vietnam War Veteran” on the veterans and 40 VA employees during the ceremony.

A larger pinning ceremony will take place Saturday during Armed Forces Day at Cass Park in Detroit.

Alysse Mengason, public affairs officer and ceremony organizer, wanted to make sure all area veterans were included in the celebration.

“We have a huge veteran population in the area,” she said. “These men and women that served are heroes and we want them to know how important they are to us and what they did for this country.”

The Vietnam War was fought from Nov. 1, 1955, to April 30, 1975.

More than 58,148 people were killed during the war, according to VietnanHistoryfacts.org. More than 150,000 were wounded. Unlike after World War II, veterans were not greeted with parades when they came home.

Dressed in a tailored navy blue suit, Ulysses C. Spencer Jr. of Detroit, stood Thursday as if frozen in time as he reflected on his days in the Vietnam War.

At 18 years old, Spencer enrolled in the Air Force and served in the Vietnam War from 1970-74. He worked in combat support, helping to deliver supplies to soldiers and bring back the wounded.

“When I think about the time I served, I want to cry,” said Spencer, 64, who is a Veterans Administration Peer Support Specialist. “We were never properly welcomed home back then, but to be honored today and to finally get the recognition we deserve means the world to me and the other servicemen around the county.”

David Ezzo, 63, of Port Huron joined the Air Force after graduating from high school and served in Vietnam from 1969-72.

“I worked in the cargo unit, helping to bring soldiers home,” he said. “To know that people care about you and haven’t forgotten about you all these years is a good feeling. People might think I’m crazy, but if I had to do it over again, I would still serve. I would never trade that experience.”

ksmith3@detnews.com

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@kylasmith525

Veterans pinning

What: Celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War

When: 10 a.m. Saturday, Armed Forces Day

Where: Cass Park in Detroit

Sponsors: Vietnam Veterans of America, American Legion Riders and Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Kowall

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