For Vietnam veteran Abe Alonzo, the March 24 ceremony honoring him and 53 others for their service in an unpopular and devastating war was long overdue.
“We weren’t accepted or received after our tour in Vietnam,” said the 68-year-old Lakewood resident, who served in the Marines from 1968 to 1970. “We were never appreciated for the sacrifices we made. It was a tough time.”
U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-7th Dist rict, has partnered with the governor’s office to honor men and women who served during the Vietnam era from Nov. 1, 1955 to May 15, 1975, the beginning and end of U.S. involvement in the war. The commemoration ceremony is part of an ongoing series of events across the country leading up to the 50th anniversary in 2025 of American withdrawal from the conflict.
Response to Perlmutter’s event, first announced in February, has been so overwhelming that his office expanded the number of ceremonies from one to eight, said Ashley Verville, Perlmutter’s director of communications.
About 600 Vietnam veterans from across the state expressed interest in participating, she said. So seven more commemoration ceremonies have been scheduled through August, to keep the numbers small and the event more intimate.
The first ceremony took place March 24 at Red Rocks Community College in Lakewood, to coincide with Vietnam Veterans Day, which is celebrated annually on March 29. Each of the 54 veterans received a lapel pin and a certificate of commendation. The commemoration does not distinguish between veterans who served in-country, in-theater or who were stationed elsewhere during the Vietnam War period.
Vietnam was an unpopular war, said Jim Falk, 68, of Northglenn who served the in the U.S. Navy from 1969 to 1973. And many veterans returned home to disapproval andrecrimination, rather than celebration.
“People blamed the service men and women,” Falk said. “But it wasn’t their fault — they were just serving.”
Evan Louis Totten, 75, a Parker resident who served in the Navy from 1964 to 1974, remembers the hostility as well.
“That lingers in the minds of all of us,” he said. “If it had not been for our loved ones at home, we would not have been able to sustain ourselves.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates there are 7 million men and women across the country still living who served during the Vietnam era. As of 2014, more than 127,000 are in Colorado.
More than 58,000 people lost their lives in Vietnam and about 1,600 people are still missing, Brigadier Gen. John P. Rose told those at the March 24 event.
“The bottom line is that we have not forgotten,” he said. “We will not forget.”
This event, specifically, lets every Vietnam veteran and his or her family know that their service is appreciated, said Jeanette Early of Aurora, a member of Gold Star Wives of America, a support organization for those whose spouses or children have died while serving in the Armed Forces.
“It means so much to say welcome home,” she said.
Because of unforeseen legislative obligations in Washington, Perlmutter was unable to attend the event, his wife Nancy said.
But in an email, Perlmutter said the lapel pins symbolize the service and sacrifice of Vietnam-era veterans.
“I am honored to be able to recognize these veterans and thank them for their service to our country,” he wrote.
For most Vietnam veterans, this commemorative ceremony is a first, said Joe Lucero, 69, a Broomfield resident who served in the Army from 1970 to 1971.
“It is,” he said, “a welcome home that we as Vietnam veterans have been waiting for.”