National Vietnam War Veterans Day observance held in Brownwood

Steve Nash
Brownwood Bulletin
Retired Army Col. Tom Gray, commander of American Legion Post 196 in Brownwood, speaks at the Vietnam War observance Monday morning at the Central Texas Veterans Memorial.
The Vietnam-era Huey helicopter is on display behind the the Vietnam War monuments and a wreath placed there for the Vietnam War observance Monday morning.
The Vietnam War monument, which was moved from the Brown County Courthouse lawn to the Central Texas Veterans Memorial, bears the names of the 11 servicemen from Brown County who die in Vietnam.

“Welcome home.”

Retired Army Col. Tom Gray, commander of American Legion Post 196 in Brownwood, offered those words to fellow Vietnam War veterans Monday as the post hosted an observance of National Vietnam War Veterans Day.

An audience of about two dozen — including about six who identified themselves as Vietnam veterans — listened as Gray spoke at the Central Texas Veterans Memorial in Brownwood. The observance honored the 11 servicemen from Brown County who were killed in the war.

The observance was held in front of the two Vietnam War monuments which were moved earlier from the Brown County Courthouse lawn, and against the backdrop of the Huey helicopter donated to the veterans memorial last year. A wreath had been placed near the monuments.

“It was not a very popular war,” Gray said, noting that veterans were greeted with protests rather than parades. “It was sad,” Gray said. “It had a profound affect on me for a long time.

“No one came up and said, ‘Thank you for your service. Thank you for what you did.'"

Gray explained how American military involvement in Vietnam began, saying the intent was to “keep the Communists from spreading around the world.”

A total of just over 2.7 million American servicemen and women were stationed in Vietnam, Gray said. More than 58,000 Americans were killed in the war, nearly 304,000 were wounded — including 75,000 who were left disabled — and 766 Americans were held by the North Vietnamese as prisoners of war, with 114 not surviving captivity. More than 2,000 Americans are missing in action, Gray said.

“It was a not-so-good war,” Gray said.

One of the biggest factors in turning the country against the war was the shootings at Kent State University in Ohio in 1970, when Ohio Army National Guard soldiers fired at students who were protesting the war, Gray said. Four students were killed and nine were wounded.

With the Paris Peace Accords, the American military completed a withdrawal by March 29, 1975, Gray said. “In my opinion, we lost,” he said. “We didn’t achieve what we should have.” 

Gray said he gets “such a great feeling” when a child or young adult tells him, “Thank you for your service” or another veteran says, “elcome home.”

“God bless you. May we never have another war,” Gray said

Ceremonies and observances have been held at the war memorial to educate the community about the wars. “We don’t want the community to forget,” Gray said.

Gray thanked those who attended the observance to honor the 11 Brown County servicemen who died in Vietnam.

“That means a lot to me,” he said.

Gray read the names of the 11: Raymond Delgado, Eddie Ephraim, James Griffin, J.D. Harrell, Phillip Holmes, Arthur Keesee, Brit Lemmons, Willard Perry, Michael Teague, Nelson Tuttle and Kenneth Wheeler.

To those who raised their hands to identify themselves as Vietnam veterans, Gray said, “welcome home.”

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 in a 2020 interview.