November 11, 2015 3:45PM
Vietnam-era veterans received special recognition, Wednesday, during the annual Veterans Day observance at Pittsburg State University.
Veterans, their families and community members were joined by more than 250 sixth graders from Pittsburg Community Middle School for the event, which was moved to the Linda & Lee Scott Performance Hall in the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts because of the threat of rain and storms.
PSU President Steve Scott, noting that 2015 is the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Vietnam War, said that generation of American soldiers had a very different homecoming experience than did soldiers of other conflicts.
“Sadly, those of you who served so bravely in Vietnam, returned home to a nation embroiled in the angry and turbulent political and social issues of that day,” Scott said. “You may never have heard the words, “welcome home.” You may not have felt the thanks of a grateful nation – thanks that so many of our veterans today feel as they come back from service in other parts of the world.”
The president that although it is impossible to “turn the clock back, undo what was done or say what should have been said,” he wanted them to know that their service is appreciated and valued.
“On behalf of a grateful nation, we say to you today, ‘Welcome home and thank you for your service,’” Scott said.
Keynote speaker Jay O’Ferrell, a Kansas Army National Guard veteran who is now a second grade teacher at Pittsburg’s Meadowlark Elementary School, said Vietnam veterans were there to welcome him when he returned from his deployment in Iraq.
“When I returned to the airport from my deployment, there was a line of at least 60 Vietnam veterans waiting to shake our hands, pat our backs and hug us,” O’Ferrell said. “I have gotten emotional many times during my deployment -- leaving loved ones, reading letters -- but I think that was the hardest I’ve ever cried was that day when I got off the airplane and there were those Vietnam vets there waving, screaming, hooting, hollering, picking us up and welcoming us home.”
O’Ferrell said it was painful to know that those Vietnam veterans were not welcomed home in the same way.
“I learned that I’m going to teach my generation, my children, and their generation to appreciate and respect our vets and be grateful for the great military forces that we have.”
The theme for the observance was “Lessons of Service.”
Speaking to the sixth graders in attendance, President Scott said there is much they can learn from the veterans they shared the room with and the veterans whose names are inscribed in the PSU Veterans Memorial.
“I encourage you to visit the memorial and when you’re there, to read the names on the thousands of pavers and on the black, stone Vietnam Wall that stretches across the back of the amphitheater,” Scott told the students. “You couldn’t choose better role models than people who were willing to put their own self interests aside and sometimes even risk their lives to protect and defend our nation and our way of life. These are real heroes – ordinary people who have risen to do extraordinary things when they were needed the most.”
O’Ferrell, too, spoke of lessons he had learned through his military service. As a member of 772nd MAC Engineering Company based out of Pittsburg and serving in Iraq, O’Ferrell said he learned “Kansas guys don’t give up. Kansas guys work hard. Kansas guys make it happen,” O’Ferrell said. “It taught me that Kansas boys and Kansas girls can do anything when they put their mind to it.”
In addition to serving in Iraq, O’Ferrell was also deployed in disaster declarations such as the Greensburg and Franklin tornados. There, he said, he learned that military service was more than just on the battlefield.
Overall, O’Ferrell said, his military service has taught him the importance of being grateful.
“I’m grateful that I’m from the state of Kansas, grateful that I have a family who supports and loves me, grateful for the support of the veterans who came to all of our homecomings and grateful that we have the opportunity to volunteer to serve our country,” O’Ferrell said.
In addition to remarks from Scott and O’Ferrell, the program included music by the Pittsburg Community Middle School eighth grade choir; a performance of “Taps” by PSU student and trumpeter Tom Lawlor; remarks on the history of Veterans Day by LTC Kenneth Hutchison, chairman of the Department of Military Science at PSU; and POW/MIA and Fallen Soldier presentations by members of PSU ROTC. CPT Chad Murrow, executive officer in the Department of Military Science was the master of ceremonies and the Rev. Mark Chambers, pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Pittsburg, delivered the invocation and benediction.
(View the entire program.)