Four decades later, Navy Seabee Charles Stallcup still remembers the warning a Marine lieutenant gave warriors returning from Vietnam.
“I’ve got a squadron of Marines here locked and loaded,” the officer said. “If you even act like you’re going to go toward civilians, we will shoot you.”
The encounter, typical of the sort of tensions between veterans and the American public in the late 1960s and early 1970s, still weighs on Stallcup.
But he said Georgia’s efforts to recognize Vietnam veterans with certificate of honor ceremonies, such as one held Wednesday night at the American Legion Post 7 in Gainesville, is “greatly appreciated.”
“I am glad to see the veterans getting some respect,” Stallcup said. “I’m tickled to death veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan are getting the respect they deserve.”
Some 70 area veterans were recognized as Mike Roby, Georgia Department of Veterans Service commissioner, and state Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, handed out certificates, shook hands and posed for pictures.
Gov. Nathan Deal and the state veterans agency teamed up to create the certificate program “to show our appreciation for the service and sacrifice of our Vietnam veterans,” Roby said, adding that the number of veterans in Georgia today is around 234,000.
Nearly 3,800 certificates have been presented so far, he said.
The effort is timed with the 50th anniversary of U.S. ground troops arriving in Vietnam.
“We’re here to do something just and appropriate,” Roby said. “It is never the wrong time to say thank you to those who put their lives on the line for our country. In far too many cases, these men and women were never given that simple, important acknowledgement.
“Many were forgotten, ignored, ridiculed and worse by their fellow Americans.”
“There’s never the wrong time to do the right thing,” Miller said. “And the right thing is to thank veterans of all generations.”
Veterans cheered on each other as their names were called and as they received certificates from the state officials.
Among the recipients was Hubert “Gunny” Hunnicutt, whom Roby said is up for the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award.
Hunnicutt got a standing ovation, but he waved off the attention, saying the ones who died in the battle he was involved in “earned it. I was just there.”
He and others were beaming, though, as they got the certificate.
“These are my troops, ya’ know,” said Hunnicutt, who also fought in the Persian Gulf War 25 years ago. “It’s good to see them get a pat on the back instead of an egg in the face.”
Physical pain still remains, as well, from the war, as John Caldwell and Ralph Lovingood talked about the lingering effects of Agent Orange, a chemical defoliant the U.S. military used to kill vegetation and give the enemy fewer places to hide.
Lovingood, who served in the Air Force, talked about battles he still fights with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“We went and done what they wanted, and now they won’t take care of us,” he said.
Army veteran Jerry Herman, who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, said he appreciated the recognition, but he still struggles with his war experiences.
“It’s always on my mind,” he said.