|By Carmelo Turdo|
Here we see the Honor Wall and the employees, veterans groups and guests assembling for the ceremony. Some looked up the names of veterans on the Honor wall, while others visited the information tent or admired Liberty, a bald eagle from the World Bird Sanctuary. Bikers from the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association are shown entering the presentation area, with Tim Hippensteel's 2000 Harley-Davidson Road King remaining on display near the Honor Wall. This Road King, one of only ten made during the 2000 Sydney Olympics, honors veterans with graphics representing major conflicts.
Dave Thomas, Boeing employee, USMC veteran and President of the Boeing St. Louis Veterans Engagement Team, served as the master of ceremonies. "Welcome to Boeing St. Louis," Thomas said in his opening remarks. "Our site proudly hosts over fifteen thousand employees from the greater St. Louis region, including St. Charles and the St. Clair, Illinois area. With over eighteen hundred active military veteran employees or national guardsmen or reservists here, we couldn't be more proud to be hosting this event today." He thanked the members of the Boeing Employee Musical Performance Club, St. Louis Site Concert Band, led by Boeing employee Keith Long, for their participation in the event. The group provided inspirational music prior to the opening remarks and later during the special music portion near the end of the ceremony.
Following the opening remarks, Boeing employee and U.S. Army/IL Army National Guard veteran, Eddie Verlander, gave the invocation. He is also a member of the Boeing St. Louis Veterans Engagement Team and is currently attending the Seminary at Liberty University.
Presentation and posting of the colors was performed by members of the St. Charles Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 458 - Mid Rivers. The National Anthem was sung by Boeing employee, Jessie Crawford.
The first speaker for the ceremony was Wally Page, USMC veteran and Boeing Vice President of Operations Strike, Surveillance and Mobility. Page leads the operations work for the F-15 Eagle, F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, EA-18G Growler and T-7A Redhawk. He shared some of the lessons learned through service in the United States Marine Corps. "One of the first things that I learned in Parris Island, South Carolina was God, Country, Family, Corps, and in that order," Page began. "All Marines learn who Lewis B. Puller is...We also learned as Marines we stand on the shoulders of giants...We also learned that it's mission before self. Understanding that you belong to something bigger, and being part of that, really helps drive you through the day-to-day. We also learned in boot camp that leaders eat last. You take care of the troops first."
The bond that is shared by veterans around the world and through the generations is forged through the willingness to sacrifice oneself for each other. "There is that incredible bond that you form, knowing that somebody is willing, as well as you are willing, to lay down your life for one another," Page continued. He mentioned that it was something he missed most since leaving the active military. He also noted another lesson: take the mission seriously but not yourself.
To the Vietnam veterans, he had this parting message: "When it comes to resilience, resiliency and grit, there is probably no other group or organization of veterans that demonstrate that, or show that more, than our Vietnam veterans. And to the Vietnam veterans that are here today, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for your patience. Thank you for your service. And thank you for providing the shoulders for young guys like me to stand on so I can see out straight and proud."
"When was the Vietnam War?" he asked rhetorically. "Maybe nobody knows, because it was very long. But I know the Vietnam War when I was born." His mother told him that as a baby he would stop crying when the sounds of war were close to his home. From 1955-1965, U.S. forces in the region were defensive, often referred to as an "advisory" role. It soon became apparent that U.S. military assistance was essential for the survival of the south following the attacks from the communist insurgents following the 1954 Geneva Conference.
In 1969, Pham began service with the U.S. Army as an interpreter and was wounded in action twice. In 1971, he joined the Republic of Vietnam Air Force and trained in the U.S. before returning to fly missions in defense of his country. He was shot down in 1973, and imprisoned for seven years. He escaped Vietnam in 1982 and reached the U.S. two years later. He continues to share his story, and appreciation for U.S. assistance to his former home, at veterans events each year.
Massive support from Russia and China turned the tide of the Vietnam War to the advantage of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), Pham acknowledged. He did find some "wins" from with the loss of his homeland. One was the wedge created between Russia and China in the years following the war. Another development from the war was the advancement of defense technology and the improvement of combat strategy and tactics from lessons learned there. A third "win" was the containment of the conflict to the South Vietnam area, thwarting the goal of a communist Asia. "After everything with Saigon collapsed, we recognized who we are. We thank you very much for the U.S. support in the time in the War in Vietnam. We learned, we're growing and we're higher. We are [have] not lost."
USMC Vietnam veteran and former McDonnell Douglas/Boeing Harrier pilot, Jackie Jackson, is a favorite public speaker in the St. Louis area. He flew over 600 combat missions in Vietnam, flew the then new V/STOL Harrier jump jet, became a legendary test pilot and also a member of the Missouri House of Representatives. He began with his theme almost immediately. "Why do we honor veterans on a given day?" he asked the audience. "What makes Veterans Day so special? Why are YOU here?" He remarked that there are somewhat silly "days" to commemorate almost anything. "All veterans, whether you were in a war, whether you were in a cold war," he continued, "it's just as cold at two in the morning whether someone is shooting at you or not. And I deeply appreciate what you've done, what you did." He addressed the Vietnam veterans in particular, asking them to shout out their in-country bases to illustrate the fact that these places with the non-English names are to be remembered as places where U.S. servicemen fought and died.
Jackson continued, again addressing Vietnam veterans. "We weren't treated very well when we got home." He related a time in 1969 when he returned to the U.S. in uniform and was pushed aside and insulted at the airport. Even though a violent response may have been expected, Jackson simply walked away. "That's why my Vietnam veterans and every veteran is so special. And that's why we're here, because you are special." A round of applause was offered to the Vietnam veterans in attendance. "And I want to say a special thank you to you and this: Welcome home. And it's our job to never let our young warriors come home and be treated the way we were."
"I want to close with this. So many people say 'God bless America' when they close. I am going to change that. And I am going to say to you, 'I want God to bless each and every one of you,' for when he does, he has blessed America."
Following the guest speakers, Renee Nadeau, U.S. Army veteran, and Chrissy Faulk, daughter of a Vietnam veteran, gave their presentation of little-known facts about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. This stirring tribute put the humanity back into the 58,272 names chiseled into the wall. Included here is the presence of Liberty, the bald eagle sheltered by the World Bird Sanctuary in Valley Park.
The Boeing St. Louis Veterans Day Recognition Ceremony concluded with a musical performance by the Boeing Employee Musical Club and a solo by Jessie Crawford.
The Aero Experience thanks the Boeing St. Louis Veterans Engagement Team for supporting veterans and producing this and other veteran recognition events throughout the year. These recognition ceremonies are scheduled for next year:
Armed Forces/Memorial Day: May 20, 2020
National POW/MIA Day: September 15, 2020