The lobby of the La Quinta Inn in Minot was bustling and crowded with hundreds of Vietnam War veterans, their families and special guests Saturday afternoon.
It was truly a gathering because the only planned events came at the beginning and end of the ceremony with a lot of getting to know one another and showing each other appreciation in between.
"We're meeting and greeting and just generally sharing good times with each other," said T.J. McGuire, the team leader of the Minot Vets Center who says he's liking the community of Minot since moving here for the position from Virginia.
A veteran salutes Minot American Legion Post #26 Commander Millo Wallace, left, after presenting him with an unserviceable flag to be burned in a ceremony at the end of a Vietnam veterans’ gathering in Minot Saturday. Post Chaplain Richard Reuer looks on and read a different line of his speech as each flag is presented, representing the 13 folds of an American flag.
Dean Verstraete of the Minot American Legion Post #26 places an
unserviceable flag into a standing fire pit as part of a flag-burning ceremony at the end of the Vietnam veterans gathering in Minot Saturday.
Ray Geffre, right, a retired military veteran, presents Medal of Honor
recipient Clint Romesha with a commemorative commissioning medallion Saturday for the USS North Dakota, which will be commissioned in
Groton, Conn., on May 31.
From left, Minot American Legion Post #26 Commander Millo Wallace, member Dean Verstraete and Chaplain Richard Reuer salute the flags burning in the standing fire pit and the balloons released to memorialize North Dakota servicemembers lost in the Vietnam War.
At 1 p.m. the Pledge of Allegiance was recited, the national anthem was sung and the American Legion invited Clint Romesha, who received a Medal of Honor in 2013 for his actions during the 2009 Battle of Kamdesh in the war in Afghanistan, to speak to the assembly.
"I just wanted to talk from my heart and tell the Vietnam veterans 'Welcome home,' and to thank them so much for their service and sacrifice that they never got over many years when they came back from Vietnam," he said in a later interview. "I don't think we can ever repay them for what they went through and what they sacrificed but from every day forward we can continue to try to repay them."
He also spoke of the "dark time" in our nation's history for veterans when they returned home from Vietnam, largely as draftees, and weren't thanked for their sacrifice and how they changed that return for future servicemembers.
"To be able to welcome them home, they never got that. I know when I served, when I went over to Iraq and Afghanistan, every time I left and every time I got home it was the Vietnam vets who were there. It didn't matter what time of day it was, as soon as we hit stateside the Vietnam vets were there in force clapping and congratulating and thanking us," he said. "Abraham Lincoln put it best: 'A nation that forgets its heroes will not long endure,' and we need to remember the service and sacrifice of our brave soldiers, our brave Marines, our Navy and our Coast Guardsmen. And events like this shows that American value and spirit is still true and we still truly appreciate the service and sacrifice."
The final ceremony was the burning of 13 American flags while Chaplain Richard Reuer said what each of the 13 folds of the American flag means. Then, as taps was played to the final flag, those in attendance let loose 66 balloons, with each one representing three of the total 198 North Dakota servicemembers lost in the Vietnam War.