Thursday, May 27, 2010

Wisconsin Guard members join salute to Vietnam veterans

Date: May 26, 2010
By Tech. Sgt. Jon LaDue
Wisconsin National Guard

More than 300 Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers and Airmen joined a statewide effort to honor the service and sacrifice of thousands of Vietnam veterans, thank them and welcome them home.

The three-day event, dubbed "LZ Lambeau," ran May 21-23 at Green Bay's Lambeau Field and honored all veterans of the Vietnam era - a time when more than 165,000 Wisconsin residents deployed to support the war.

"LZ" refers to "landing zone," a familiar term to Vietnam veterans as a helicopter drop-off site.

More than 27,000 veterans, family members and other supporters filled Lambeau Field's stadium seats along both sidelines for the May 22 tribute ceremony. This made for an impressive standing ovation as Wisconsin Guard members marched into Lambeau Field at the tail end of the ceremony, said Master Sgt. (Ret.) Dave Galik, 128th Air Refueling Wing.

"I thought it was awesome," Galik said. "It was a real rush walking out there as they were cheering for us."

On the field itself, 1,244 empty white chairs were perfectly aligned in columns and rows across the field, representing Wisconsin's Vietnam veterans who never returned home.

The Wisconsin Guard members took positions around the field and paid tribute with a moment of silence before turning 180 degrees and saluting the many veterans in the crowd. Staff Sgt. Emily Russell, Wisconsin Army National Guard's public affairs office, sang the national anthem. "It was an emotional experience and it was very honoring," said Spc. Heidi Hanneman, who marched in with her fellow Soldiers from Company C, 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry.

Command Sgt. Maj. Ed Hanson of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, who recently returned from an Operation Iraqi Freedom deployment, led the marching Guard members and spoke to the crowd - not only as a current Soldier, but a Vietnam veteran as well.

Hanson emphasized that service and sacrifice bond veterans of all wars together. Gratitude, though not expected, is very much appreciated.

Galik also served in the Vietnam era in 1970 after he was selected in the draft. Having served in both the Vietnam era and in today's military, Galik has seen some drastic changes in perception of the military.

"I think service members now are treated a heck of a lot better than they were treated in my day," Galik said. "I wish veterans in that day would've been treated better, but for them to be recognized now - it's better late than never."

Brig. Gen Don Dunbar, adjutant general of Wisconsin, spoke to those in attendance about his appreciation for the sacrifices made by all Vietnam veterans.

"You endured the horrors of war, your battle scars were deep, and our nation's gratitude was, sadly, in short supply," Dunbar said. "However, time has brought perspective. Your country now knows that your service was extraordinary and that honor was and is due. Tonight I am proud to extend that honor as we say thank you, and welcome home."

The weekend event also included a motorcycle honor ride from La Crosse to Green Bay, live music, story sharing by Vietnam veterans, and the Vietnam Moving Wall. LZ Lambeau was a collaborative effort between Wisconsin Public Television, the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, the Wisconsin Historical Society and many veterans organizations.

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