JEFFERSON CITY — The sound of “Taps” filled the rotunda, and the veterans quickly stood, took off their hats and saluted the Missing Man Table. The round table — draped in a white cloth, with a red rose and an empty chair — represented the prisoners of war and the missing in action who may never come home.
Approximately 400 Vietnam-era veterans and their families gathered at the capital for a commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War. The ceremony recognized the veterans with a pinning ceremony.
State Rep. Allen Andrews, R-Grant City, told the crowd he was honored to have them at the capital.
“Unfortunately for many of you here today, this will be the first time that you have been honored,” Andrews said. “This potentially may be the first time that you have been offered a sincere thank you for your service.”
Humility is what he thinks of when he sees the veterans in the room, he said. “Veterans have love of country before self. Without your service and sacrifices, we wouldn’t have the freedom we have today,” he said.
During the ceremony, Fort Leonard Wood service members partnered with Gov. Mike Parson and lawmakers to pin the veterans. They were presented with “A Lasting Memento of the Nation’s Thanks!” lapel pin the size of a quarter. It has an eagle on the front with the words Vietnam War Veteran and “A grateful nation, thanks and honors you” on the back.
Judi Samborski, an Air Force veteran, said it was cool to receive her pin from the governor. She said it was overwhelming to be at the capital for the ceremony. “I appreciate everyone that said thank you toward us,” she said. Her husband, Jay, also an Air Force veteran, served in Vietnam as a bomb loader on B52s.
Jay Samborski said the ceremony was long overdue. “It’s hard to put into words. We were rejected for so many years by everybody. The stories you hear, and we lived through them,” he said.
He said the experiences he and others went through have influenced the way they interact with current service members who return from service. “My generation, the ones that came back, made sure the guys today are more appreciated, because we don’t want a repeat of what we went through.”
Jacqueline McCusker, who is in the Non Commissioned Officers Academy at Fort Leonard Wood, participated in the pinning ceremony. She volunteered to help as soon as she heard about the ceremony.
“I believe they did so much for us in the past and they deserve to be recognized,” she said.
Air Force veteran Arthur Bowser from St. Louis said he came to the ceremony to receive his pin. During his time in the service, he was an Air Force flight line mechanic stationed in Da Nang.
He was 21 when he went to Vietnam, interrupting his college career.
“It’s a great honor to finally be recognized as a Vietnam veteran by the state of Missouri,” Bowser said.
“One year, seven months, three days, 14½ hours” is how long Michael Klingeman served in the Army. He was with the 17th Battalion Artillery in Vietnam and served out of An Khê in the Landing Zone Schueller, spending 13 months in a field in Vietnam, he said.
“Now we need to focus on the other troops coming home from the war on terrorism,” he said.
When asked what he and his fellow veterans are doing for today’s soldiers, he had to pause, collecting his thoughts. “The Vietnam veterans are doing more for the soldiers that are fighting today, than we received. We make sure they are taken care of, we are taking care of them.”
Klingeman said it was great to be with the other veterans and to receive the pin.
“It was about time,” he said.
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