The Young Marine Color Guard presents the colors at the ceremony honoring Vietnam Veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice.   Photo by Becky Foster

KINGMAN – On Friday, March 29, Vietnam Veterans Memorial Day was observed at Veterans Memorial Park in downtown Kingman. The ceremony was hosted and coordinated by the Vietnam Veterans of America, (VVA) Chapter 995 in Kingman.

The Vietnam Veterans Recognition Act was signed into law in 2017. designating March 29 as Vietnam Veterans Memorial Day. This date is significant as it indicates the end of the Vietnam War and the return of U.S. troops to American soil.

Posing next to the Vietnam Memorial Wall are L-R  former Young Marine, Ethan Falkner, his grandfather,William Falkner and grandmother, Helen Falkner. Ethan graduated out of the Young Marines at 16 but still  participates in ceremonies in uniform. He has many ribbons he earned for various activities such as marksmanship, color guard and drug demand reduction. Additionally, he was twice named Young Marine of the year. William is a U.S. Army veteran and Ethan plans to enter the United States Air Force. Photo by Becky Foster

President of the VVA and U.S. Army veteran, Lee Elder, officiated.  Elder is also Chaplain for the Marine Corps League Dean W. Reiter Detachment 887 which provided a rifle volley for the ceremony. He also served as a medic in the military. The Kingman Young Marines provided a color guard.

Featured speaker, Army and Vietnam War veteran, Ralph McKie, advised attendees that this is the day we salute the service of all Vietnam Veterans, keeping our thoughts and prayers to the fallen, the missing and those currently in harm’s way.

U.S. Army Retired Vietnam Vet, Ralph McKie addresses the audience at the Vietnam Vets Memorial Ceremony. Visible on his neck are the six dog tags of his fallen comrades that he wears.   Photo by Becky Foster 

“We also remember that honoring those who’ve served isn’t just about what we say here today,” he emphasized. “It’s about how we honor our veterans every day of the year.”  McKie wears six dog tags of his friends and brothers who died in a mortar attack on their operations building on March 2, 1969.

He stated Vietnam Veterans came home to an uncertain and confused society that did not welcome them home.  “We all came home different than what we were when we left to go to war,” he remarked.

“Some still struggle today from the demons and the thoughts of what they encountered while they were at war and some how they were treated when they came home,” he remarked.

10-year-old Liam Anderson is an articulate Young Marine who has earned numerous ribbons for Basic, Citizenship, Marksmanship , Toys for Tots and other activities.  He sold $100 worth of raffle tickets for a gun (the most in the unit) without any adult assistance. Liam said he does not know if he will enter the armed services or become a police officer and may do both as his grandfather, Terry Flannagan, did. Photo by Becky Foster

He also provided some statistics that are not generally known by the general public:

* The average age of our military personnel serving in Vietnam was only 22 years old.

* According to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs approximately 7.2 million Vietnam Vets are living as of August 2, 2021.

* More than 2,709,918 Americans served during the Vietnam War.

* The youngest American Vietnam veterans age is estimated to be about 62 years old now.

* There were 621 people from Arizona who were killed in Arizona in action, two of them from Kingman, Major John Oliver Barnes and Captain Darryl Lee Burnside.

* One out of every 11 Americans who served in Vietnam was a casualty, with 303,644 wounded in action.

* 39,996 on the wall were just 22 or younger, 8,283 were just 19 years old, 33,103 were 18 years old.

* Twelve soldiers on the wall were 17 years old, five soldiers on the wall were 16 years old, one soldier was 15 years old.

* More than 1,616 American service members are still designated as missing in action in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.

The Dean W. Reiter Detachment 887 provides a rifle volley for the ceremony and a recording of “Taps” was played. This recognizable bugle rendition is played or performed at ceremonies and military funerals and once was a signal for lights out.  Photo by Becky Foster

“Vietnam was one of the toughest wars,” stated Retired U.S. Army Sergeant Major, Wesley Maroney. Maroney said he received a starkly different reception when he came home from Vietnam than he did than when he returned from the Gulf War and Iraq.

Maroney further stated that people do not want to talk about what happened after the U.S. left Vietnam. “It was a very ugly time, after we left two million Vietnamese citizens their military and government officials were murdered,” he said.” The North Vietnamese were just wiping out… people that had anything to do with the American military…and we’ve forgotten about them too; and they were good people.”

“It brings back so much sorrow. I still get choked up,”  remarked Robert Ritz, a retired U.S. Marine who served in Vietnam as a Corpsman and later as an officer in the Medical Service Corps aboard the U.S.S. Coral Sea. Photo by Becky Foster

Well, it’s good to see that these people are saying they recognize what we did when we came home,” stated Navy Veteran, John Slaughter. “Thankfully, we came home, but for the people we lost, we’re really sorry, and this gives us a chance to show our appreciation.”

Retired Marine Robert Ritz was sent to Vietnam with the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, Echo Company as a line corpsman taking care of wounded Marines. He was later commissioned as an officer in the MSC (Medical Service Corps) aboard the USS Coral Sea.

Terry Flanagan, commandant with the King of the Marine Corps League, informs the audience that the Dean W. Reiter Detachment 887 got its name from a young Lieutenant, Dean Reiter.  Reiter’s plane was blown out of the air by friendly fire on his first day of duty in Vietnam  as the co-pilot in a rescue effort. His father, stated Flannagan, was a member of the detachment and they voted to change the name.  Photo by Becky Foster

“I have many thoughts about Vietnam. I was there 13 months,” stated Ritz. “And like most medical corpsmen, we saw a lot of action and a lot of dead and wounded Marines. So, it’s my way of giving back to them because I have friends that are forever 18, 19, and 20 years old…so now it’s a day of remembrance and memorials.”

“It brings back so much sorrow. I still get choked up,” he said. “Yeah, it’s been over 50 years and it’s just one of those wars when they wouldn’t let us win. In that infantry company, we took one hill three different times, and each time we lost men.  It’s stupid, you know? They were so interested in body count instead of taking territory.  We could have taken North Vietnam easily, but they wouldn’t let us.”

Becky Foster

Paul Bunn provides comfort to older generation of vets

Paul Bunn, Senior Vice-Commandant for the Dean Reiter Detachment 887 poses with his rifle.  Photo by Becky Foster

Retired Marine, Paul Bunn is the Senior Vice-Commandant for the Dean Reiter Detachment 887. As the Veteran assistant, his main job is doing fundraisers to help Veterans.

He said he helps veterans with such as cleaning up their property, navigating the VA system, giving advice or assisting with “life itself”. “A lot of times, like with the older vets, it’s more along the lines that they just need someone to talk to that understands,” he explained.

Bunn, 43, served in the Marine Corps from 2000 to 2004 and then in the Army National Guard from 2006 to 2012

He explained that since he is part of the younger generation, the older vets like talking to him about things. “So, a lot of times I’ll get a call to come out and clean up someone’s property and it turns out that they really don’t need a lot of help, they just want someone to talk to,” he said.

“I’m that person that steps in that role and I do help them get their property cleaned up or their car fixed or whatever it is that they need. But as of lately, it’s just been, just sitting down and collecting their stories overall and…talking to them and just making them feel better … they are in their twilight, they’re ready to go, but they want to tell their stories to someone.”

He said they do not want their stories reported or recorded but just want someone who has been in combat to talk to who understands and can appreciate it. 

“A lot of times when I meet people it’s at their darkest hours whether the county’s coming down on them or (they are) having mental problems or financial issues; I help navigate through the system that they need to get through or get to their next level” he said. “So, you know, my whole thing is to actually help out the older generations.”

Becky Foster