By Master Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa
Florida National Guard Public Affairs
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. (Nov. 7, 2014) – Nearly fifty years and half a world away from the battlefields of Vietnam, 28 former service members were honored Friday afternoon for their military service.
The Florida National Guard paid tribute to these – and all – Vietnam veterans during a Vietnam War commemoration at the historic St. Francis Barracks in downtown St. Augustine. The commemoration was highlighted by a command retreat ceremony on Patriot Field which included not only Florida National Guard Soldiers and Airmen, but a special platoon made up of Vietnam veterans from the local area.
The Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War was established by President Barack Obama on May 25, 2012, to begin a 13-year program to “honor and give thanks” to Vietnam veterans.
“Today the Florida National Guard honors the sacrifices of those who served our nation’s call during the Vietnam War,” Florida Army National Guard Command Chief Warrant Officer David Smith said during the ceremony. “From 1964 to 1975, 3,403,000 service men and women were deployed to Southeast Asia.”
Smith noted that 43,434 American service members were killed in action and 153,303 were wounded during the Vietnam War.
“Today, we still have 1,641 service members whom we have not accounted for,” Smith said of those military personnel listed as Prisoners of War/Missing in Action.
One of the Vietnam veterans participating in the ceremony was 68-year-old Jim Wellmon, a Government Operations Consultant with the Florida Department of Military Affairs and a retired Army first sergeant. Wellmon, who lives in Jacksonville, began his military career with a 1970 tour of duty in Vietnam and ended it in 2006 after a deployment to Iraq. He began his more than 30-year military career as an Infantry Soldier and completed it flying on UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.
“It is hard to believe it was almost 50 years ago,” Wellmon said. “I remember how the treatment was when we came home, and I think it is a little bit late that we are starting to recognize the Vietnam vet.”
Wellmon said that talking to the other Vietnam veterans really brought back memories of his service as a young Army Soldier in 1970.
“You talk to a guy who has been there, and things will come right out that you never talk about to anyone else,” Wellmon said. “I’m proud and I’m glad to still be around to be out there.”