Left to right: Auxiliary Snell Post President Gerri Sizemore and Vietnam era veterans Mildred Smith-Harris, Charles Spivey and Dick Peach.  

The image of American soldiers returning home as heroes who are recognized for their sacrifices contrasts sharply with the hostility and indifference that marked the return home of Vietnam War veterans.

In May 2012, the federal government began partnering with local governments, private organizations and communities across America to participate in the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War – a 13-year program to honor all men and women who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces from Nov. 1, 1955, to May 15, 1975.

Often referred to as a long overdue tribute to Vietnam veterans, the commemoration program enables Americans to “welcome home” those who served during one of the most difficult periods in the history of our nation.

On Oct. 5, JourneyCare Veteran Volunteer Advisory Council partnered with the United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration to host “A Special Event to Honor our Vietnam Era Veterans” at Sigma Alpha Epsilon National Headquarters, maintained at the Levere Memorial Temple, 1856 Sheridan Road, on the campus of Northwestern University.

Mayor Stephen Hagerty welcomed more than 100 people and asked the veterans to stand or raise a hand. “On behalf of everybody in Evanston, I want to thank all of the veterans in the room for their service,” said Mayor Hagerty.

Speaker Elisabeth Pennix, General Counsel & Ethics Officer, Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, noted that although the Vietnam conflict lasted from 1955 to 1975, America’s involvement in Vietnam began in 1960.

Addressing the veterans, Ms. Pennix said, “There was widespread and vocal political opposition never seen before in this country, and yet despite it all, you answered the call. You served at a time and a place that was unlike any other we had seen before…and no matter what your opinions were, you answered the call.”

Almost 3,000 service members from Illinois were killed, captured or missing in action during the Vietnam War, Ms. Pennix said.

Ms. Pennix introduced keynote speaker Gerald Paulsen, who started out in the U.S. Army during Vietnam and is now an internationally recognized expert in the field of communication and professional development. Mr. Paulsen is passionate about giving back to his fellow brothers and sisters who served. He is President and founder of Operation Horses and Heroes, a not-for-profit intensive horse therapy program for military personnel, veterans and their families.

Mr. Paulsen’s comments focused on the importance of the multitude of people who support the men and women who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces.

“The unsung heroes of the military are our families. Without them we can’t do our jobs. For every individual in a combat zone, it takes 22 support personnel,” said Mr. Paulsen.

JourneyCare is a nonprofit hospice in the Chicago area that is recognized by the National Hospital and Palliative Care Organization as a partner in the “We Honor Veterans” program. The event was free to all Vietnam era veterans and one guest. The following veterans were individually recognized and welcomed home: Robert Appel, James Arquilla (Army), Jordan Baich (Air Force), Jim Benton (Army), John Budny (Army), Bill Chibnik (Air Force), Thomas Fronczak (Navy), Robert Kadera (Navy), Michael Kelly (Army), Paul Kirk (Navy), Rehova Nemo (Air Force), Richard Peach (Air Force), Mildred Smith-Harris (Army), Charles Spivey (Air Force), John Swiderski (Army), Milton Tooma (Army), John Visaggio (Air Force), Greg Wilson (Air Force), Kenneth Wideman (Army) and Herman Young (Army).

Monday’s snowstorm caused Evanston’s Veterans Day ceremony to be cancelled, while observances in more temperate weather honored veterans of this country’s armed conflicts and peacetime efforts.

Originally called “Armistice Day,” the holiday, which was first celebrated on Nov. 11, 1919, was intended to commemorate the end of what was hopefully termed as “the war to end all wars.” Nearly eight years later, in 1926, Congress passed a resolution for an annual observance of the truce, and, in 1938, Nov. 11 became a national holiday.

In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower officially changed the name of the holiday from Armistice Day to Veterans Day. In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill, which moved the celebration of Veterans Day to the fourth Monday in October. The law went into effect in 1971, but in 1975 President Gerald Ford returned Veterans Day to Nov. 11 because of the historical significance of the date.

Unlike Memorial Day, which began as a way to honor fallen Civil War soldiers, Veterans Day honors all veterans, living and dead, who served their country honorably in times of both peace and war.

At 5:45 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918, a truce between the Allies and Germany was signed at Le Francport, near Compiègne, in France, ending the fighting, effective at 11 a.m. Paris time that day – the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Before then, the Allies had signed treaties with other Axis powers Bulgaria, the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  


History.com offers the following quotes about veterans and wars:

“To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory.” — President Woodrow Wilson, 1919, in proclaiming Armistice Day on the anniversary of the end of World War I.

“Whatever gains are secured, it is loss the veteran remembers most keenly. Only a fool or a fraud sentimentalizes the merciless reality of war.” — Senator John McCain, 2008, in a foreign policy speech.

“Homeless and at-risk veterans need more than just shelter. We must give them the tools to empower themselves and reclaim the self-worth and dignity which comes from occupying a place in the American dream. It is a dream they fought so hard to defend for the rest of us.” — Homelessness advocate and film producer Maria Cuomo Cole, 2015, in an editorial pointing out that tens of thousands of vets are homeless.

The website also offered this information about the veteran population of the United States:

18.2 million living veterans served during at least one war as of 2018.

9% of veterans are women.

7 million veterans served during the Vietnam War.

3 million veterans have served in support of the War on Terrorism.

Of the 16 million Americans who served during World War II, about 496,777 were still alive as of 2018.

2 million veterans served during the Korean War.

Heidi Randhava

Heidi Randhava is an award winning reporter who has a deep commitment to community engagement and service. She has written for the Evanston RoundTable since 2016.