It’s been more than five decades since the last U.S. troops left Vietnam and the remaining prisoners of war departed Hanoi, but for many of the millions of military veterans that served during the conflict, the scars from the 20-year Vietnam War are still felt, both physically and mentally, even today.

To honor all those who served, and gave part or all of themselves during the Vietnam War, the USS Midway Museum held a commemoration ceremony on the flight deck that was attended by more than 450 people, mostly military veterans.

“It means a great deal to me that this is finally happening and that we’re getting the recognition we should have gotten 50 years ago,” said Bob “Doc” Werner, a Navy combat corpsman who was awarded the Silver Star and Bronze Star for his bravery, and the Purple Heart for his wounds sustained on the battlefield. “It’s very important to me that we continue to remember the Vietnam War and the sacrifices made by the men and women who were there. It’s important to not forget history or you’re doomed to repeat it.”

Retired Navy Cmdr. Curt Dosé and Navy Petty Officer Christina Rojas perform the wreath-laying ceremony.

In 2017, the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act was signed into law, designating March 29 as National Vietnam War Veterans Day. The day honors the more than 9 million U.S. military service members who served on active duty during the war, and nearly 3 million who actually served in the Vietnam combat area. Sadly, more than 58,000 American service men and women lost their lives while more than 150,000 were wounded.

“This ceremony is incredibly cathartic,” said Scott Ziobron, an aerographer’s mate who deployed to Vietnam on the USS Coral Sea (CV-43) from 1969-1970. “It’s heartening to see the Midway hosting such an event, especially for us Vietnam veterans who never received the recognition for our service during that period. Instead of appreciation, we often faced derogatory labels. This event serves as a cleansing experience for the soul.”

The ceremony’s guest speaker was retired Navy Cmdr. Curt Dosé, a Navy F-4 Phantom fighter pilot who completed two combat tours to Vietnam with Fighter Squadron 92 (VF-92). He flew nearly 200 combat missions over North Vietnam and is credited with shooting down a North Vietnamese MiG-21 flown by Nguyen Van Ngai during an intense dogfight north of Hanoi in May 1972.

But Curt’s story is bigger than just his courage in Vietnam. It reaches back to his father, a Navy fighter pilot in World War II, and continues more than 40 years after the war, when he and 20 other former U.S. fighter pilots returned to Vietnam on a mission of healing.

While in Vietnam, Curt was introduced to Ngai’s family who took him to their home, visited his gravesite and later ate dinner together complete with vodka toasts. It was an emotional experience.

“It was special meeting Ngai’s sister,” reflected Curt. “It was a little scary, but she was very kind and understanding. A sobering moment. They were very compassionate and welcoming. This was closure for me.”

Retired Navy Cmdr. Curt Dosé was the ceremony’s guest speaker.

During the ceremony, Midway was presented with a special gift from the Vietnamese-American community in Westminster, Calif. The gift was a replica of an 11-foot Vietnam War memorial monument erected in 2003 by a group of Vietnam veterans and Vietnamese refugees in Westminster. The memorial statue, which features an American infantry soldier and a South Vietnamese soldier standing side by side, is dedicated to all those who fought and died in the war.

Vietnamese-American, Derrick Tran, and Midway docent and Vietnam War veteran, Bob “Doc” Werner, unveil the Vietnam War memorial statue during the ceremony.

“My deepest gratitude to all who served and sacrificed during the Vietnam War,” said Roxanne Chow, a Vietnamese political refugee from Westminster, who made the gift presentation. “Amidst the chaos and uncertainty, Vietnam veterans showed immense courage. You served as a beacon of hope in times of darkness. Remember, real heroes don’t wear capes, they wear dog tags.”

The ceremony was not only an opportunity to publicly thank Vietnam veterans, but it was a chance for them to share the quiet camaraderie that exists between all those who served during the war.

“These special occasions truly make the veterans feel valued and appreciated,” said Paul Alvarado, a volunteer with Midway’s exhibits and outreach teams who served on two Navy destroyers from 1968-1972. “These ceremonies are wonderful opportunities for me to also connect with other Vietnam-era veterans.”

All the veterans who attended the ceremony take great pride in their service, even though they did not return from the war to the hero’s welcome they truly deserved.

“To say we lost, would denote that we came home with our tails between our legs,” said Doc, a Midway docent with more than 3,300 volunteer hours. “We didn’t do that. We came home with our chins high, our heads high, and proud of what we did. If they asked me today to go back to a war zone, I’d do it in a heartbeat. This is the greatest country in the world.”

David Powell performs taps during the wreath-laying ceremony.

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