Fort Riley, Kansas

 

Selected Speeches given by 1st Inf. Div/Fort Riley commanders

Nov. 6, 2015 Vietnam Veterans Welcome Home Ceremony

By Maj. Gen. Wayne W. Grigsby Jr. | 1st Infantry Division and Fort Riley commanding general | November 07, 2015

Suffocating heat, jungles so thick you could barely see through them, much less maneuver, monsoon rains that drenched Soldiers and Marines to the bone and a determined enemy that would make our forces pay for every inch of ground we took. That was Vietnam. That is where these men and women standing here before you were tested and proved their devotion to their nation.

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, friends and families of the “Big Red One,” thank you so much for joining us at a ceremony in honor of our Vietnam veterans. Today we honor service men and women – not just our Big Red One veterans, but our veterans from across the region.

In 1984, our nation dedicated the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. It holds the names of the service members who gave their lives and honors all those who fought in Vietnam. During the ceremony, Ronald Reagan said, “Those who fought in Vietnam are part of us, part of our history. They reflected the best in us. No number of wreaths, no amount of music and memorializing will ever do them justice. But it is good for us that we honor them and their sacrifice.” I am humbled and proud to be able to preside over this ceremony, which is far different than what our brave Vietnam veterans came home to some 50 years ago.

So I am happy to say “welcome home” and “job well done” to our returning service members. Let’s give them a round of applause. You have a lot to be proud of. Let’s also have a round of applause for the spouses and family members of our Veterans. Families are the reason we fight; they bear the heavy burden of their loved ones’ absence and we cannot do what we do without them.

Almost 2.6 million men and women deployed in support of the Vietnam War. There, you fought to defend the freedom of oppressed people and to maintain the United States as a beacon of hope and democracy for the world. You forged bonds with the men and women you deployed with that will never be broken. You became part of the long legacy of warriors that grace the history of this great nation.

The Big Red One is a division of firsts. We were the first division called to fight in Vietnam 50 years ago. For almost five years, our Soldiers battled against the communist forces in the jungles north of the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon and carried out programs to aid the people of South Vietnam. After those five years of intense fighting in difficult jungle terrain, the 1st Infantry Division colors returned to Fort Riley. That return came at a cost; 3,181 Big Red One Soldiers were killed in action, including a commanding general. For on Sept. 13, 1968, Maj. Gen. Keith Ware and his aides were killed in action when their command helicopter was shot down by enemy fire over the jungles near Loc Ninh.

Two hundred thirty-nine great Americans earned the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War. Twelve of those were Big Red One Soldiers. One hundred fifty Medals of Honor were earned by service members whose loved ones had to accept them on their behalf, including 10 awards received posthumously by Big Red One Soldiers.

These medals were earned by Big Red One Soldiers like Spc. 4 Robert Stryker, who threw himself onto a land mine to shield his wounded teammates near Loc Ninh, or Spc. 4 Robert Law, who led a counterassault against a superior enemy force at Tinh Phuoc, ultimately sacrificing his own life to protect his comrades when a grenade landed in his fighting position. Leaders like Capt. Eripides Rubio who, gravely wounded and in total disregard for his own safety, saved his men from being killed by a friendly airstrike, running a smoke grenade toward enemy troops after it was thrown too close to his unit’s position. As he was cut down by enemy fire, he threw the grenade toward the enemy, allowing friendly aircraft to identify and destroy the enemy’s position.

In the Fighting First Infantry Division, we have this thing called the BRO Charge. It is recited every morning at our first formation, and it reminds us that we must be Brave, facing the enemy and doing what is right, no matter the cost. It tells us we must be Responsible for ourselves, our units and our families. It reminds us to be On Point, contributing to our units, community and nation. These men are shining examples of the BRO Charge. Clearly they were Brave and Responsible for the lives of their fellow Soldiers. They were On Point, understanding that their actions mattered, that they were a part of something bigger than themselves.

Men and women, draftees and volunteers, people from all walks of life proved their mettle in the jungles and rice paddies of Vietnam. They saved lives in field hospitals, developed airmobile tactics, conducted river patrols, flew bombing runs and close air support missions and they conducted an innovative counterinsurgency campaign that we continue to learn from today. They laid the foundations of the combined joint operations that we use now. In Vietnam, as in many of our current conflicts, there were no well-defined front lines, no guaranteed “safe” rear areas. Every service member was at risk.

In war, there are no unwounded Soldiers. The final toll of Vietnam totaled over 58,000 Americans killed and over 300,000 physically wounded. Far more than that carry the invisible scars of war. A welcome back from grateful Americans is just the beginning of a process that is needed to help troops cope with what they endured. That’s not something our society knew how to help with as our Vietnam service members came home. Wounds, especially the ones not visible, didn’t get the treatment they needed. From addressing behavioral health issues to traumatic brain injuries, we have improved how we care for our veterans. We call on our community now to reach out to those impacted by the experience of war. Reach out to those who served, from our few remaining WWII veterans to those who served in Vietnam and those who’ve served in recent combat.

Our service members share bonds forged in combat, but they need to forge similar bonds with their communities to truly heal. We honor here the burdens borne by our brothers and sisters that served in Vietnam, full knowing that they were not embraced as they should have been when they came home. The failure of our nation to care for our Vietnam veterans did not keep them from caring for one another and for all veterans.

Vietnam veterans have gone above and beyond to make sure that our current generation of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines do not have the same experience they did. Like so many of the Soldiers in this hangar, I’ve been to my fair share of deployment and redeployment ceremonies. They are often attended by veterans. You can pick them out of any crowd. Old Troopers with wise eyes, wearing hats and patches recognizing their units or the conflicts in which they served. We have many dedicated Vietnam vets in the local community that never miss a deployment or redeployment ceremony here on Fort Riley. Whenever I see a Vietnam vet, I make sure to thank them for their service. When I do, they seem surprised. The trauma of the reception these men and women received when they arrived home the first time is written on their hearts. A simple, “Thank you for your service” seems so insignificant, but it means the world to a generation that was scorned for fighting their nation’s war.

This generation of service members has championed veteran’s rights, improved health care, been mentors and lifelines for our young veterans and made sure that the men and women serving our nation today will never suffer the indignities that they did. They continued to serve their nation as members of the military and in federal service. They became business and community leaders. They never forgot the values that they learned through their military service. Their dedication to the nation and to improving the communities in which they live never faltered. They are indeed an inspiration to all of us. President Kennedy said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” Fifty years ago, our nation did not express gratitude to these Veterans in words or in deeds. Our community, both military and civilian, has come out today to show their gratitude for your service to a nation that simply did not understand your sacrifices at the time. We show by our deeds today that we deeply appreciate your service and that we want to make sure you get the homecoming that you deserve.

I will close with one of my favorite quotes from President Reagan: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

The veterans standing here before you today did their part to pass the torch of freedom to the next generation. They ran to the sound of the guns when others avoided the call to serve. They laid the foundations for our military to thrive. For it to remain the greatest military force on earth. Ladies and gentlemen, your actions in Vietnam earned you a place in the grand order of combat veterans, men and women who are forever united by bonds forged in blood and steel. You share a bond with all those who put their lives on the line for strangers in far-away lands in the service of freedom. We will not forget your sacrifices and we will continue to honor your legacy.

No Mission Too Difficult, No Sacrifice Too Great! Duty First! Victory!

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