Veterans remembered at 50th anniversary commemoration of Vietnam War


A variety of groups attended a ceremony at Cape Canaveral National Cemetery to honor Vietnam veterans, including motorcycle veterans groups from Florida to Canada.

Austin Rushnell

America has a longstanding tradition of pride in its armed forces, from the first defenders of freedom in the late 1700s to the combatants of today.

The Cape Canaveral National Cemetery honored the veterans of Vietnam on March 30 for the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.

The day before was recognized by the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017, designating every March 29 as National Vietnam War Veterans Day. According to The United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration website, “March 29, 1973 is the day the Military Assistance Command Vietnam was deactivated.”

During the event, wreaths were presented by various groups, including a P.O.W. wreath, a Gold Star wreath in memory of a soldier killed in action in Afghanistan, as well as a Purple Heart wreath.

A color guard on hand was represented by the Astronaut High School JROTC drill team, led by Staff Sgt. Lilly Nemitz.

After an opening prayer and the singing of the National Anthem, presenters spoke from a podium about their experiences with Vietnam and Vietnam veterans.

One speaker, Col. Hal Kushner, was especially striking in his speech about his experiences as a prisoner of war during Vietnam.

“Our helicopter, a UH-1 Hotel, went down on a terrible night with a crew of four,” said Col. Kushner. “Ultimately, I was the only survivor.”

Kushner’s crew crashed down into a Vietnamese jungle and, four days later, after the only other surviving crew member had succumbed to his injuries, he was captured.

Kushner spent 3½ years in a Vietnamese prison camp, where he, 27 other American soldiers, and four West Germans were starved and treated brutally.

“It was a hole in the mountainous jungle and we had nothing,” Kushner said, “For two years, we had no clothes, no shoes, no blankets, no soap, toothpaste, (or) tobacco, almost no food, no nothing.

“And we were cold, wet, starved, sick with malaria, dysentery, jungle fevers, and hardly ever saw the sun because it was a triple-canopy jungle,” Kushner continued. “We were beaten, shackled, starved and we suffered. Nearly half of us died.”

Eventually, Kushner was arched out of the jungle and to Hanoi, where the 12 surviving prisoners were evacuated.

After Kushner’s speech and a reading of names, a Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum C-47 flew over, and “America the Beautiful” was sung.

There were a myriad of groups that came out to the ceremony, including groups of Vietnam veterans and local motorcycle chapters.

Jim Hartman, assistant chaplain of the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, was appreciative of the event recognizing the Vietnam veterans.

“The Vietnam veterans have a special place in my heart because they went through something no other vets went through,” Hartman said. “They were under conditions that they never expected and weren’t prepared for; and when they came home, they weren’t welcomed.

“For them to remember the ones that didn’t make it back, it’s heartwarming, it’s heartfelt,” Hartman added. “It’s (important) that these guys finally get a welcome home from their country.” SL