The National Vietnam War Veterans Day Commemoration was held Friday at the U.S. Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport, to honor and recognize the service members from the Vietnam War.
The event began with Naval Base Kitsap Commanding Officer Capt. Alan Schrader, who read the Presidential Proclamation that will remain intact through Veterans Day in 2025.
On March 28, 2017, President Donald Trump signed into law the Vietnam War Recognition Act of 2017, designating March 29 as National Vietnam War Veterans Day. This day was chosen because on March 29, 1973, Military Assistance Command Vietnam was deactivated.
The Presidential Proclamation was followed by the recognition of some two dozen veterans from various branches of the military. Congressman Derek Kilmer served the role of calling each veteran up to the stage to be recognized.
“I want to say thanks for the continued service that you show,” Kilmer said. “I am conscious of the fact that many of you don’t stop serving; part of our job is to have your back.”
The first guest speaker of the ceremony was Dr. John Sherwood, a historian in the Research and Writing Section at the Naval History & Heritage Command. Sherwood has authored six books and served with the NHHC since 1997. He holds a PhD in history from George Washington University.
Sherwood presented a brief synopsis of his last published book, War in the Shallows: U.S. Navy Coastal and Riverine Warfare in Vietnam, 1965-1968. The book explores the operations of the Navy’s three inshore task forces. Using oral history interviews, the book focuses particularly on combat waged by ordinary sailors. Vietnam was the bloodiest war in recent naval history, which War in the Shallows displays from the men who fought in it.
The official history won the North American Society of Oceanic History’s John Lyman award for the best book of naval history published in 2015. Sherwood’s next project involves going to Europe in the Fall as a Fulbright Scholar to study the European and NATO naval response to the European migration crisis.
“Over the course of my career, I have interviewed hundreds of veterans and their stories continue to inspire me and motivate me to chronicle their service in official history writing,” Sherwood said. “It’s amazing that over 160 people from the Kitsap area – mostly veterans of the Vietnam War – came to the U.S. Naval Undersea Museum for its celebration of National Vietnam Veterans Day. I hope my presentation honored their service and sacrifice.”
The next guest speaker was U.S. Army Vietnam Veteran Norman Johnson. Johnson enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1959 and joined the 7th Special Forces Group Airborne at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina in 1960. He saw service in Laos during Operation White Star in 1962, for which he was awarded the Armed Forces Expeditionary Service Medal and Combat Infantryman Badge.
“I grew up in San Francisco; when I graduated high school, I wanted to get away from home and ended up joining Special Forces,” Johnson said of his time as a green beret.
Operation White Star was a secretive mission in which U.S. forces trained foreign fighters in support of the Kingdom of Laos. Service members for the operation wore civilian clothes and were authorized to fly by civilian aircraft, according to Johnson. All of the supplies from Operation White Star were brought in by the Central Intelligence Agency.
“I never talked about being shot at until I read about police shooting people,” Johnson said. “That’s all we trained for, how to react to it.”
During his presentation Johnson also debunked a common Hollywood trope, “silencers are not silence like they are in the movies, they are still loud.”
When asked if the clandestine nature of his mission had lessened the recognition he received for his service in Laos, Johnson downplayed the notion.
“I didn’t care, I knew the impact we had at the time,” Johnson said. “I don’t feel that I need commemoration, there was never an incident in Laos where I thought I was in desperate circumstances.”
The commemoration wrapped up with closing remarks from Congressman Kilmer and an Armed Forces Medley from Navy Band Northwest.
Tyler Shuey is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org