There were simultaneous wreath-laying ceremonies across the Roanoke Valley at noon on March 29 commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War– one in Roanoke City, one in Salem, and one in Vinton at the Vinton-Roanoke County “High Ground” Veterans Monument at the War Memorial.
The Vinton ceremony opened with a welcome from Vinton Mayor Brad Grose, the Posting of Colors by the William Byrd Air Force JROTC Color Guard, and the national anthem sung by Floyd Boone.
Roanoke County Board of Supervisors Chairman Joe McNamara read a proclamation declaring March 29 as Vietnam Veterans Day to “express the appreciation, gratitude, and respect of the citizens of the County of Roanoke to our Vietnam veterans and their families for their courage, commitment and sacrifice in protecting our country.” The date was chosen to recall the day in 1973 when the last combat troops withdrew from Vietnam. This ceremony was part of an ongoing Vietnam Commemoration that began in 2015.
Col. John Miller of the Association of the United States Army described the origin and purpose of the Vietnam Commemoration.
President Barack Obama proclaimed May 28, 2012, through November 11, 2025, as the Commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. Approximately 9 million Americans served during the period of the Vietnam War between November 1, 1955, and May 15, 1975.
U.S. involvement in Vietnam “started slowly with an initial deployment of advisors in the early 1950s, grew incrementally through the early 1960s, and expanded with the deployment of full combat units in July 1965.” The last U.S. military personnel were evacuated from Vietnam in April 1975.
The Commemoration honors all those veterans who served during that time period, and their families, regardless of the location in which they served. It is estimated that 7 million of them are still living today. Approximately 100 of the lives lost were individuals from the Roanoke Valley. More than 1,600 remain Missing in Action.
Following remarks by Col. Miller, Mayor Grose and Supervisor McNamara presented Vietnam Lapel Pins to several veterans who were present, thanking them for their service. The ceremony concluded with the wreath laying by McNamara and Grose, and the playing of “Taps” by Rebecca Geisler from the William Byrd High School band.
The 2008 National Defense Authorization Act authorized the Secretary of Defense to conduct a program in which local, state, and national governments recognize the anniversary of the Vietnam War.
A local committee was formed in 2015 that includes Vinton, the Cities of Roanoke and Salem, Roanoke County, and the Stonewall Jackson Chapter/Association of the United States Army to plan at least two events in the Roanoke Valley each year from 2015 through 2017 to remember the anniversary.
In 2015 there was a Vietnam Combat Art exhibition at Hollins University and the display of “The Wall that Heals— the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall” at the Salem Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
In 2016, the committee hosted a special night for Vietnam veterans at a Salem Red Sox game. They marched in the Veterans Day Parade, and supported an exhibit of the Vietnam Combat Art at the Vinton War Memorial.
In 2017, in addition to the wreath-laying ceremonies on March 29, a Massed High School Band Concert with Maestro David Wiley is planned for November 5 at the Salem Civic Center. On November 17, there will be a social event, “Saluting Those Who Served,” at the Vinton War Memorial to honor Vietnam veterans and their families, and the partners who have supported the commemorative events.