Vietnam veterans welcomed home, honored in celebration
Event held at Northern Navajo Veterans Center
SHIPROCK — As Henry Smith played taps at the start of the Vietnam Veterans Day event here on Thursday, an audience member wept loudly.
Smith, post commander for the Shiprock Veterans of Foreign War Post 9517, played the bugle call while standing with members of the service organization.
"We lost a lot of men who never came back from the war," said Smith, an Army and New Mexico National Guard veteran.
This is the second year the event, designed as a homecoming and honoring event for Vietnam War veterans, took place at the Northern Navajo Veterans Center here.
The event included a parade that proceeded from the Shiprock Chapter house to the veterans center earlier in the day.
The event also is held in response to the presidential proclamation signed by President Obama in 2012 that declared March 29, 2012, as Vietnam Veterans Day.
President Trump signed into law last year the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act, which established the National Vietnam War Veterans Day each year on March 29, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
Tom Tso, a Vietnam veteran and chief justice emeritus for the tribe, said 59 Navajos were killed in action in Vietnam.
"While I was sitting there and taps was playing, I saw some families crying behind me. I want you to know that we feel with you, and we honor the service of your fallen," Tso said.
Among those expressing appreciation to the veterans was Navajo Nation Council Delegate Tom Chee, who represents the Shiprock Chapter.
"There is a great sense of patriotism and camaraderie among our veterans. …Thank you for your great sacrifice in keeping us in a state of mind that we are all safe," Chee said.
Wallace Charley, the veteran services officer for the Navajo Nation Veterans Administration's Shiprock office, read a recognition of achievement from U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M.
"This certification is awarded to veterans of the Navajo Nation," Charley said.
For the last nine years, Army veteran Mike Bekis has organized honor walks that recognize veterans who served in various eras of combat. This year, eight Vietnam veterans, including Bekis, started walking from Thoreau on March 24 and arrived on Wednesday in Shiprock.
"They're in their late 60s, but they still did it, one foot in front of the other," Bekis said.
Another group conducted an honor walk from Teec Nos Pos, Arizona, to the Shiprock Chapter house on Wednesday, Bekis said in a telephone interview after the event.
"It's a healing process," he said.
Among those who participated in the walk from Thoreau to Shiprock was retired Army Lt. Col. Dennis Pinigis.
The Washington, D.C., resident traveled to the area after receiving a request to participate in the walk.
"It was a lot of pain, but it was worth it. The pain we feel in our legs and our feet is nothing compared to the pain that people felt who lost their family in Vietnam. This is why we did this walk, for the memory of the people who served," Pinigis said.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at email@example.com.