KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A long overdue expression of gratitude for metro veterans of the Vietnam War arrived Thursday morning.
On Thursday, the United States observed National Vietnam Veteran Commemoration Day, a movement to honor military members who served in the Southeast Asian battlefields of the 1960's and 1970's. A sizable crowd of veterans from that era gathered in south Kansas City on Thursday morning outside the Richard Gebaur Commissary near Belton.
They went where they were sent. That's what numerous U.S. Military veterans from the Vietnam period said during that gathering where retired soldiers, airmen, marines and sailors received a special lapel pin meant to honor them for their service.
It's been a half-century since U.S. Armed Forces became involved in that conflict, yet many veterans continue to struggle with the events they witnessed.
"Thank you very much for your service," U.S. Marine Corps Col. Thomas Fahy said, while awarding one retiree with a golden lapel pin.
Each veteran went home with that medal as well as some reassurance that arrives with this occasion that retired soldiers aren't forgotten. The U.S. Veterans Administration says approximately 2.7 million American servicemen and servicewomen represented their nation in Vietnam.
Fahy, who is stationed at the nearby Belton Army Reserve Center, said the display of appreciation is genuine, but it arrived too late for many.
"Things take time. Maybe it took some time for some wounds to heal," Fahy told FOX4. "We asked 18- to 20-year-old women to go off and fight these battles. The sacrifices they made were massive."
The war hasn't ended for many soldiers. Some were mere teenagers when they flew out to fight in a foreign land, and they found acceptance and adjustment to civilian life difficult afterward.
"There are way too many Vietnam veterans who are taking their own lives," Fahy told the audience.
Fahy, who has served 26 years in the military, points to retired freedom fighters who live in poverty, as well as others who suffer from post-traumatic stress and addictions, as a crisis the United States must address.
"Our Vietnam veterans are committing suicide at a higher rate than anyone else. We have got to get a handle on that collectively," Fahy said Thursday morning.
James Moberly, a retired U.S. Air Force medic, said he's fortunate not to suffer from the conditions known by many Vietnam survivors. Moberly, a veteran from New Jersey, has lived in the Kansas City area for 40 years, and he hopes this new annual observance is the road to more.
"We're not baby killers. We're not monsters. We're just like you. We're human beings. Maybe that's all we ever wanted was just to be accepted," Moberly said.
The VA says our nation loses an estimated 500 Vietnam-era veterans per day. Fahy said it's a shame so many of them pass on without recognition, much less a holiday.