In observance of Vietnam Veteran’s Day, VNA Hospice NWI honored Vietnam Veterans in a special ceremony on Friday, March 25. While the official holiday is March 29th, this service was held as a special edition of the We Honor Veterans weekly Salute to Veterans service that is held every Friday at noon at the Hospice Center.
The American Legion Post 94 Honor Guard was present as VNA staff, Veterans, and community members gathered in the Hospice Center’s garden with their hearts full, some even with tears in their eyes, to pay homage to those who served during the war.
“This is really important to me because I have a personal connection to the Veteran causes, because my dad is a Vietnam Veteran,” said Volunteer Services and We Honor Veterans Program Coordinator Erica Kerkes. “So when we decided we were going to go for level five with the We Honor Veterans program, it was something that I felt really personally connected to. It’s really important not only to me personally, but to VNA as a whole. We've made it a part of our culture to recognize and honor veterans.”
When Kerkes mentioned to her father, Walter Counts, that the VNA will be paying tribute to Vietnam Veterans, she said he considered it quite the honor.
“He said, ‘Thank you for doing it and for doing all you can to recognize Vietnam Veterans,' because it's not something that he received when he came home,” she said.
Vietnam Veteran’s Day was declared in March of 1974 by then President Richard Nixon to coincide with the one-year anniversary of U.S. combat forces in Vietnam on March 29, 1973. It was then made a national holiday when former President Donald Trump signed the Vietnam Veterans Recognition Act of 2017.
Upon returning from overseas, most Veterans unfortunately received little to no recognition for their service due to a divided press, a divided nation, and tensions surrounding the war. As time progressed, though, Vietnam Veterans slowly but surely began to receive more and more recognition and now, almost 50 years later, 45 states and Puerto Rico recognize March 29th as National Vietnam Veteran’s Day.
“Thank God that the Vietnam Veterans are getting some recognition for what they did,” said Veteran Jerry Hendershott. “I think that it's about time.”
Maria Galka, Director of Development at VNA Hospice NWI, is also appreciative that Vietnam Veterans are being honored for their time overseas. Like Kerkes, Galka’s father is also a Vietnam Veteran, and after enduring trauma from the war, it’s a nice and humbling feeling to know many others are thankful for his service to our country.
“This brought me to tears because my dad was a Vietnam Vet,” Galka said. “I was obviously just a kid when he came home, but we were told, ‘Don't tell people that your dad just got home from Vietnam,’ because it was a tough time. He was there during the hardest parts of the war. He ended up suffering from a lot of the effects of Agent Orange and passed away about 20 years ago. He was a good man. He was a Helicopter Scout Pilot and saw an awful lot of action. He ended up crashing several times, being shot down, broke his back, ended up disabled, and ended up in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. And it was tough.”
Galka explained that since this was a taboo subject, her father had no one to confide in, which really took a toll on him. She knew that if her father were alive today, he’d be in awe of services like the one at the VNA.
“I wish he could have seen this,” she said.
Today, a bush sits in the VNA Center garden honoring her father’s service, a memorial she’ll forever appreciate.
While some Veterans are unfortunately no longer around to receive the recognition they deserve, those that were able to attend, were beaming from ear to ear while taking part in such a service.
“This is the second event I’ve been to by the VNA, and it’s been nice to be remembered,” said Veteran Robert Albers.
The We Honor Veterans weekly Salute to Veterans service is open to the public, and services are always held come rain or shine.
“Each week, we get more participation from staff and volunteers in the community,” said Kerkes. “It's something special for us to be able to recognize different local Veterans who have lost their lives fighting for our country. Then today was super special because we recognized Vietnam Veterans for National Vietnam Veterans Day.”
Galka said it’s an honor to be a part of an organization that pays respects to Veterans. “I'm glad that the VNA has a We Honor Veterans program and is so invested in making sure that we honor all Veterans, not just Vietnam Veterans, but especially the ones that kind of lost out on the welcome home and to be able to do that now for those Veterans, I think it's really important. So I'm proud to be a part of an organization that recognizes the challenges that Veterans face and works hard to help alleviate some of those challenges.”