A long overdue thank you
PELHAM — During the Vietnam War there were five options for young men like Tim Kennedy and Lenny Pitts — get married, go to college, get drafted, enlist or run away to Canada. Both choose to enlist in the Air Force.
Because of the controversy surrounding war, it took a while for both combat veterans to be comfortable talking about their service and get a proper welcome home, they said.
"I never talked about it, for 30-something years," Kennedy remembered.
Pitts added that he never knew whether or not the men he coached his kids' sports with, or worked with, were veterans.
"We just didn't talk about it," he said, recalling his reception home and how hard it was to find a job coming back from serving. "People just didn't want the controversy in their business."
Both Kennedy and Pitts were at the Pelham Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10722 Tuesday to receive their 50th Vietnam War Anniversary pins, which are available to members of the Armed Forces who served between 1955 and 1975. Congresswoman Annie Kuster, D-N.H., was giving out the honors and thanking members for their service.
"Your service — what you did whether it was volunteer or the draft — you were there for your patriotism, you were there to keep us safe at home, to keep the world safe," Kuster said.
Though many of the Vietnam veterans like Kennedy or Pitts weren't properly welcomed home at the time, Kuster said she hopes that the pins could show the gratitude she has for their service. Kuster added that she is thankful the attitude towards military service has shifted in recent years, and she was happy a staffer in her office brought the pin program to her attention to implement.
"People are serving all over the world. We have something like 8,000 bases — it's extraordinary, " Kuster said. "These are Americans trying to do their best and keep people safe."
"Hopefully America has learned to certainly be more respectful and more understanding of people who serve and to see it as the whole broad spectrum of what it means to fight for democracy, fight for our way of life, and serve our country and the world," she said.
While Pitts is glad to be thanked now for his service, he can't help but remember the reception he received when he returned from Vietnam.
"Where were you 50, 60 years ago when it mattered?" Pitts asked, rhetorically.
David Kenney, chairman of the state veterans committee, was happy that Kuster's office brought the pin ceremony to the local VFW because it could potentially be hard for some veterans to get to the larger events, he said.
"It's long overdue," Kenney said. "Even though it's been decades past Vietnam, the appreciation is genuine."
"The military doesn't have politics, it has a purpose," he added, explaining the service aspects of military involvement like peacekeeping missions and helping in the aftermath of natural disasters.
Kuster's office has helped 70 veterans from her district get their Vietnam Anniversary pins, more than 50 veterans were in the southern tier. Over a dozen of the veterans were in Pelham to receive their honors. Vietnam veterans from across the country can contact their local congressional office to get information on obtaining the pin.
The veterans at the event were thankful for the recognition, and they hope that people continue to honor military members.
Currently about .5% of Americans serve in the military, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, which is much lower than the percentage of Americans serving in the military during the Vietnam War.
"Everyone used to know someone who had served, whether it was a cousin or friend, they knew someone, now they don't," Kennedy said. "The biggest message is not to forget."