WASHINGTON, D.C., WASHINGTON, D.C. –
On March 29, National Vietnam War Veterans Day, in sub-freezing temperatures, Defense Department leaders paused at the iconic Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. along with Gold Star family members to remember those who served.
“It was a highly emotional experience,” said retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Pete Aylward, director of the Vietnam War Commemoration. “Watching our senior uniformed leaders stand with Vietnam War Gold Star family members – those who have borne unimaginable sorrow – to offer the Nation’s profound respect and humble solace was powerful. “
Ms. Fern Sumpter Winbush, Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency Principal Deputy Director, participated in the event with retired U.S. Army Col. Al Shine, a Vietnam veteran and Gold Star brother of two Vietnam veterans lost in the war. One of the brothers, Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Cameron Shine, was unaccounted for until August 2, 1996, when the Joint Task Force-Full Accounting (JTF-FA, now DPAA) identified and returned his remains to the Shine family for a full military honors funeral.
“To lay a memorial wreath for all who served in the Vietnam War was an awe-inspiring moment,” said Ms. Sumpter Winbush. “While we pause in our nation’s capital, I’m also thinking about our teams conducting operations in Vietnam and Laos, who are working to hopefully locate and return those missing from this conflict to the families who still wait. Today’s ceremony was truly a humbling reminder of just how much we owe these heroes and their families.”
Since 1973, the remains of more than 1,000 Americans killed during the Vietnam War have been identified and returned to their families for burial with full military honors. The Agency vigorously pursues the fullest possible accounting for 1,584 missing American personnel from the war to include civilians.
“We were thankful the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency was able to participate,” continued Aylward, “especially since two of the Gold Star daughters, Ms. Cindy Stonebraker and Ms. Maureen Hickman Caparaso, still await the return of their respective fathers. These two U.S. Air Force warriors, Lt. Col. Kenneth Arnol Stonebraker and Capt. Vincent Joseph Hickman, are among the 1,556 service members who remain missing and unaccounted for from the Vietnam War, and for whom DPAA is relentlessly searching.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that today there are more than six million U.S. Vietnam veterans living in America and abroad, along with nine million families of those who served during this timeframe.
Only in its fifth year, the recognition day falls on a significant date as March 29, 1973 was the day the last U.S. combat troops departed Vietnam. In addition, the date honors the steady flow of flights through late March 1973 under terms set through the Paris Peace Accords, where 591 POWs returned to American soil as part of OPERATION HOMECOMING 49 years ago.