The restrictions imposed by COVID-19 prevented American Legion Post 196 in Brownwood from having the public ceremony its members had planned to observe National Vietnam War Veterans Day.
But the post found another way to mark the annual March 29 observance.
On the quiet Sunday morning of March 29, post commander Tom Gray and post member Harold Stieber posted a wreath in honor at the observance at the Central Texas Veterans Memorial in Brownwood.
Gray and Stieber placed the wreath at the base of the Vietnam War memorial, which is engraved with the names of the 11 Brown County servicemen who lost their lives in the war.
The original plan was to have a public unveiling of the two Vietnam War monuments that were removed earlier from the grounds of the Brown County Courthouse. The monuments will be placed later at the Central Texas Veterans Memorial.
Gray, a retired Army colonel who was wounded by a hand grenade in Vietnam, said the observance is “absolutely” personal to him.
Gray served in Vietnam from 1970 to 1971 and was awarded the Silver Star, Purple Heart and Bronze Star with valor. Gray was a captain and commanded and armored cavalry unit of 173 men.
“I lost eight soldiers there, and I still think about them all the time,” Gray said.
Gray said although his unit won every fight it got into in Vietnam, he had “the greatest respect in the world for the North Vietnamese army.”
The soldiers from North Vietnam walked to South Vietnam, had limited supplies and fought against an “overwhelming military force,” Gray said.
He said the takeaway from the Vietnam War is “if you don’t have the will of the people behind you, the war will be lost. You have to have the will of the people to win a war.”
The U.S. military “learned a lot of lessons out of that war that were applied to Desert Storm,” Gray said.
Vietnam War Veterans Day was first observed as a one-time occasion on March 29, 2012, when President Barack Obama issued a proclamation calling on “all Americans to observe this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities,” according to the website military.com.
The day was then introduced as an annual event in 2017 when President Donald Trump signed the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017, the website states.