Three hundred Vietnam veterans were honored Saturday at a ceremony in Fresno in recognition of their service and sacrifices in war.
The ceremony at the Fresno Veterans Center in northeast Fresno commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War and also paid tribute to post-9/11 veterans.
Fresno Vet Center Director Pierre Saint-Fleur said the event was a way to bring healing and closure to many Vietnam veterans, many of whom were treated badly following the war.
Fresno veteran Edison May, 70, traveled from his temporary home in Avenal to attend the event.
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When we came back from Vietnam a long time ago, it was a different atmosphere.
Edison May, Vietnam veteran
For May, the simple, small bronze pin attached to his shirt was a great honor.
“It’s kind of heartwarming,” he said. The honor served to veterans on the eve of Sept. 11 was much different from the way people reacted to veterans during and after the Vietnam War, he said.
“When we came back from Vietnam a long time ago, it was a different atmosphere,” May said. “There was a lot of animosity.”
He explained that for a long while people who had served in the Vietnam War pretended they weren’t soldiers, “just to fit in.”
But now, May said, the care and appreciation for Vietnam veterans is welcomed. It was his first time being honored at a ceremony, he said.
Fourteen soldiers from the Fresno-based Army National Guard’s 1106th Theater Aviation Sustainment Management Group lined up as, one by one, each of the 300 Vietnam veterans were honored with the pin, engraved with “Vietnam War Veteran.”
The event also provided a chance to honor veterans from wars that came after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C.
We’re ending the 50-year anniversary, but we’re not ending the Vietnam War.
Pastor Vito Brugetti, Worship Centre of Centerville
Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp and Superior Court Judge Hilary Chittick also attended the event to provide the veterans with an update on the Fresno County Veterans Treatment Court, where eligible veterans are helped with rehabilitation treatment instead of incarceration for offenses.
“I have a new blessing, and that is to serve veterans,” Smittcamp said of the work she has focused on with the Veterans Treatment Court.
Smittcamp told veterans in attendance of a recent success story involving a veteran who has been able to turn his life around, thanks to help from the court.
Smittcamp also spoke about her father, a World War II veteran who “never really talked” about his military service.
She said that 10 years after her father died in 2000, she had the opportunity to prosecute a case involving a Marine.
“During that process, I learned more about the military and more about (post-traumatic stress disorder) than I ever learned from my father,” Smittcamp said.
Smittcamp added that after that experience, she thinks her father had suffered from PTSD.
She said that helping to start up a veterans court was one of the reasons she ran for DA. There had not been one previously in Fresno County because of lack of funding.
“Because of the way that I was raised and because of the person that I am, I decided to cover the court myself” from the district attorney’s budget, Smittcamp said.
Smittcamp said she is one of the only elected district attorneys in California to do so.
She told the veterans, “It is now our opportunity to serve you, as you have served us.”
After a rifle salute by members of the Army National Honor Guard, one of several blessings throughout the day was given to the veterans who attended.
Pastor Vito Brugetti of the Worship Centre of Centerville offered a prayer to veterans and also mentioned the sacrifices the wives of veterans have made in caring for them.
“I know that Vietnam veterans have put you through a lot,” Brugetti told them.
He added, “All veterans have been through a lot, and I know it is difficult for you to understand, but thank you for your sacrifice.”
Brugetti recited war statistics. He said many people have served and died while others have been left to deal with the consequences of war.
“We’re ending the 50-year anniversary, but we’re not ending the Vietnam War,” Brugetti said. “All of those who have lost a loved one know what I am talking about.”