Retired Navy veteran Ron James wants all U.S. troops serving overseas to know they are supported by people back home.
But James realizes support and respect didn’t always come easily for soldiers.
“During the ’60s there were a lot of veterans who came home to a less-than-warm welcome,” James said. “The public support for Vietnam (War) was very low; being in the military was unpopular.”
James is the public relations representative for the Atlanta Vietnam Veterans Business Association, which is devoted to showing support to those who were lost in Vietnam and their surviving families.
This year, the organization sponsored a special memorial ceremony Saturday at the Livsey Field of North Georgia College & State University in honor of 27 men who once attended the university and gave their lives serving during the Vietnam conflict.
“We have had tributes to veterans before, and we have an existing memorial to former cadets that were killed in Vietnam, but this is much larger than what we have had in the past,” said Kate Maine, the director of university relations at North Georgia College & State University.
The memorial ceremony began with music from the Golden Eagle Band and featured the Patriot Choir, military aircraft flyovers and honors rendered to the fallen soldiers and Marines.
Remarks were made by NGCSU president David Potter, Bruce Holroyd, chairman of the board of AVVBA, and Alan Gravel, president of AVVBA.
Retired Marines Maj. Gen. James E. Livingston was the guest speaker. He served in Vietnam and later was awarded the Medal of Honor.
The memorial ceremony also offered history majors at the university a unique way to get involved. Several students took part in an internship in which they gathered information about the lives of the 27 former North Georgia College students.
“I will give kudos to some of the interns,” James said. “They jumped into it with both feet and said, ‘We want to learn because we don’t know anything about it.’”
NGCSU senior Matthew Bennett said that the internship was important to him because it made the history of the war real.
“I’ve walked by the memorial wall at North Georgia, and I have seen the names of the various students who have died, but they were just that — only names,” Bennett said.
By working on the internship project, Bennett was able to realize those names represented an important part of our history.
“These men were fathers, husbands and sons,” Bennett said. “They hung out with their friends and they played jokes on one another.”
Bennett said that by unlocking their stories, he learned that the soldiers were not that different from himself.
The information that the interns complied is appearing in a book developed by the AVVBA, “All Gave Some Some Gave All.”
The book will be given to each of the families represented in it. It will be for sale through the Atlanta Vietnam Veterans Business Association and through the university bookstore.
“I feel it is important for my fellow students and even locals to know more about the history of the people of this area because when you learn about the people, the events of the past become more relevant to us,” said Bennett, who thought the memorial was a great way to honor the men.
“It isn’t just about honoring the fact that they served and died. The memorial is also a way to tell stories about who these people really were, which is something that everyone can connect with in some small way.”