Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center
Spokane Honors Vietnam War Veterans
“I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” said 71 year-old Vietnam War Veteran Ray Calhoun (USMC) as he addressed a room full of Veterans, family members, and guests gathered at VA’s Spokane Vet Center for the annual Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War. Calhoun, a medic while serving in the Marine Corps, credits bi-weekly group therapy sessions with fellow Veterans still learning to manage their Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other invisible wounds of war, by placing their faith in each other and Vet Center counseling team.
“I’ve seen the worst of the worst,” he said, holding back the emotions that still haunts many Vietnam War Veterans, who on-average, experienced 240-days of combat in a single year, compared to 45-days for World War-II Veterans. “We had 41 of our troops killed in one battle, and the rest of us didn’t get out alive without being wounded that day,” recalled Calhoun – who earned a Silver Star along with a Purple Heart for helping others survive and escape the ambush by the North Vietnamese during a single battle in 1967. “I’ve been in group therapy for more than 20-years now, and I am grateful for it.”
Calhoun, like many attending the March 26th event at the Vet Center was delighted to see former South Vietnamese military Veterans also in attendance. “I’m just tickled to see this South Vietnamese contingent here with us today – and how well they’ve assimilated here. It gives all of us Vietnam Veterans here today something to feel good about.”
The South Vietnamese guests present were Veterans who served alongside U.S. troops as interpreters, scouts, and combat warriors. Despite the unification of their country years after the war, the Vietnamese men proudly displayed the flags representing the heritage and freedom they fought for, and some were even held captive as Prisoners of War, yet able to enjoy freedom today as citizens of the U.S. They also want everyone to know that they, and their own families also sacrificed during the war, but more importantly remain grateful for U.S. intervention in the political fight between North and South Vietnam that triggered the war in the late 1950’s.
“These men fought with honor next to us in Vietnam. We will always remain grateful, despite the terrible losses we share,” explained Michael Nguyen. He was invited by Bill Pelosi, a U.S. Navy Veteran, who also served as a civilian supporting “Air America” and U.S. operations in “the secret war” beyond the Vietnamese border in nearby Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand in the 1960’s-‘70’s. An active participant at Vet Center events and group therapy sessions, Pelosi highlighted U.S. and Air America actions during “Operation Frequent Wind” in the final days before the April 30, 1975 “fall of Saigon” when thousands of South Vietnamese civilians joined the last of the American civilian and military troops airlifted out of the capitol city before it fell under North Vietnamese control. “It is a privilege and honor to know we fought with them and we saved many, who now live among us here in Spokane,” Pelosi said, as he hugged and graciously presented the group of South Vietnamese Veterans to the audience.
The Spokane Vet Center has hosted the annual event since 2012 and will continue to do so. VA will honor and remember its Vietnam Veterans every year with a special pinning ceremony and recognition event through 2025. The events include tearful moments, laughter, and history… as Vet Center staff lead guests through prayer, “A Moment of Truth” videos, and the playing of TAPS that followed the symbolic meaning of the “Missing Man” POW-MIA table - remembering the more than 1,600 U.S. servicemen still listed as “Missing in Action” (MIA) in Vietnam.
Each Veteran present for the ceremony received a special 50th Anniversary commemorative lapel pin and a volunteer-sponsored BBQ lunch. Fifty years after the war in Southeast Asia, America’s Vietnam War Veterans remain the largest population of Veterans seeking care through Vet Centers and VA facilities nationwide. “May we never forget where we came from,” explained Dave Baird, (USN Ret.) Vet Center Director. “We not only care about our combat Veterans, but also their families, and their children - who can all receive care here, because of the sacrifices they and their Veteran have made for all of us,” smiled Baird.