Metro Detroit Vietnam vets honored with lapel pins

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Warren — Air Force veteran Charles Dunn was on cloud nine Friday after a U.S. senator shook his hand and he was given a special lapel pin for his service in the Vietnam War.

Veteran Joseph McClellan, left, is thanked by U.S. Sen. Gary Peters during a ceremony Friday in which veterans from the Vietnam War era were presented with pins.

“I thought it was great,” said Dunn, a 74-year-old from Westland. “I thought it was the greatest thing since peanut butter. I really did.”

Dunn served in the Air Force and was in Vietnam in 1966-67. He was discharged as an E-6, or technical sergeant.

He was one of more than 100 Vietnam-era vets from across the Metro Detroit area who were honored for their service during a special ceremony Friday at the U.S. Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM).

As part of the event, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, shook the hand of each of the veterans.

“It was incredibly emotional,” Peters said. “I think what we’ve learned from our Vietnam veterans is that as a country, we always have to stand behind the men and women who have served. Not only have they given much, but it’s clear their families have, too.”

Veterans were presented with these pins, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.

Each veteran was given a commemorative lapel pin that was round with an eagle’s head, stars and the words “Vietnam War Veteran” embossed on them.

Peters said the event and the pins are part of a 13-year-long national effort to honor the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. The celebration began on Memorial Day 2012 and will run through Veterans Day 2025.

Peters said veterans who couldn’t attend Friday’s ceremony can still request a commemorative lapel pin through his office by calling one of his offices or visiting his website.

Similar events are also being planned for other locations around the state, but details have yet to be finalized, the senator also said.

America's involvement in Vietnam dates to 1950, when the U.S. sent $15 million in aid and military advisers to help France retake control of its former colony in Indochina from communist forces. On July 8, 1959, the U.S. suffered its first casualty in the conflict in the Southeast Asian nation.

By March 6, 1965, America’s role in Vietnam had escalated and it deployed 3,500 soldiers to Vietnam, launching a 10-year conflict.

By the end of the war, about 2.7 million American men and women had served in Vietnam. More than 58,000 Americans were killed and more than 153,000 were wounded.

Veterans and guests stand during the pledge of allegiance, as part of a ceremony where veterans from the Vietnam War era were presented with pins, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.

There were also 766 Americans held as prisoners of war, of which 114 died in captivity.

The war was officially ended by presidential proclamation on May 7, 1975.

The U.S. has an estimated 6.9 million Vietnam War era veterans, according to the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics in Washington, D.C. It’s the second largest group of military veterans in the country. The largest is Gulf War era veterans which total about 7.5 million, according to the center.

Michigan has more than 658,000 military veterans and more than 237,000 of them served during the Vietnam era.

Many Vietnam veterans faced criticism and were snubbed when they returned home.

That was acknowledged by Col. Jim Schirmer, the U.S. Army’s project manager for Armored Fighting Vehicles, who joined Peters at Friday’s ceremony. Schirmer also thanked the veterans for their service and sacrifice.

“Speaking as someone who’s been in the Army since 1987, I can’t get across a parking lot or airport without someone thanking me for my service,” Schirmer said. “That’s a welcome you all deserved but did not get at the time.

“So, this (is a) small token of the attempt to try to heal the division and thank you on behalf of our country for all of your sacrifice.”

Dunn said he appreciated the gesture.

“I thought it was nice of Senator Peters to shake our hands,” he said. “I never had that kind of contact when I came back (from the war).”