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Vietnam Vets Set Example for Today's Troops

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

BRANSON, Mo., June 14, 2005 – Today's young military men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan "are walking in our bootprints," the secretary of Veterans Affairs told thousands of Vietnam veterans and their families here today.

Speaking at the opening ceremonies for "Operation Homecoming USA," R. James Nicholson extended what he acknowledged was a long-overdue welcome home and expression of thanks on behalf of the president and the United States.

Nicholson, a Vietnam veteran himself, praised his fellow veterans for their service and sacrifice during ceremonies at the Grand Palace theater.

"America is proud of you Vietnam veterans because you served in the righteous mission of freedom, because you brought honor to your uniform by believing in and fighting for a cause more dear than your own life," Nicholson told the group.

"Your service in Vietnam sustained the proud legacy of valor and honor that continues on as the hallmark of the American GI."

And despite homecomings that he acknowledged were often "less than grateful," Nicholson said, America's Vietnam veterans never gave up on their country. "You always held true to the values of citizenship," he said. "And if you asked for anything, you asked only for what you had earned."

These are the same characteristics Nicholson said today's U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines demonstrate daily as they fight the war on terror.

"Our troops fighting terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan today are defending our homeland by stopping the evil of terrorism there, before (terrorists) can carry out their despicable acts here," Nicholson said to booming applause.

The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States were "one time too many," the secretary said, noting that the country must have the courage "to fight terrorism where it breeds so it cannot take root here on our homeland."

But the war on terror involves more than simply protecting America, Nicholson continued. Its success depends on opposing oppression in the world and helping others to live in freedom.

"Freedom will blossom when the choking vines of tyranny are cut away, and we are doing that in Afghanistan and Iraq," Nicholson said.

He acknowledged that the war on terrorism, like the mission in Vietnam, won't be easy. Despite the widespread appeal of freedom, he told the veterans, "as you and I know real well, it is not free."

As U.S. troops fight the war on terror, they follow in the bootprints of the Vietnam veterans who served before them, the secretary said.

"I have met with them in Baghdad and Kirkuk (Iraq), have seen them carry out their mission with nobility and courage and compassion," Nicholson said, "just as we carried ourselves with dignity and honor in our day."

But unlike in their day, when they returned home from combat to face taunts and scorn, Vietnam veterans are helping ensure that today's returning war veterans get the homecomings they deserve, Nicholson said.

"We are opening our arms to them in grateful recognition of their service, and we open our hearts to those who return with wounds, in humble appreciation for their sacrifice," he said.

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R. James Nicholson

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