Rector and Region Remember Those Who Served
A long-overdue debt was paid in full Saturday, March 31, as Rector hosted a special welcome back celebration for veterans of the Vietnam War-and all those who have served. The Vietnam Veterans Welcome Home Celebration was one of only three held statewide in observance of National Vietnam War Veterans Day. The special occasion is marked on March 29, in recognition of March 29, 1973—the date American ground and support troops pulled out of South Vietnam. In 2012 it was observed by proclamation of President Barack Obama, marking the 50th anniversary. In March of 2017, President Donald Trump signed the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017. This act officially recognized March 29, as National Vietnam War Veterans Day and includes the day among those on which the U.S. flag should be displayed.
The brainchild of Joey Pruett, and the result of the efforts of dozens of volunteers and supporters, the Rector observance provided an insightful and emotional tribute and recognition for those who served and returned--and those who did not make it home.
The day's activities kicked-off around 2 p.m. with a parade down Main Street to the Rector Veteran's Memorial Park. Following the procession, special observation ceremonies were held at the park, including a performance by Jimmy Fortune, of Statler Brothers fame. That evening Fortune performed in concert at the Rector Community Center.
State Rep. Joe Jett, of Success, served as the master of ceremonies along with Rector Mayor Teresa Roofe. Jett, a former member of the United States Air Force, welcomed those in attendance with a story about his father. He noted when his dad returned from service in Vietnam he was forced to change into civilian clothes in order to get a ride home from the airport in Memphis—a testament to the reason the celebration was planned.
“We're here to recognize you, your achievements and your accomplishments,” he told the veterans. “But, we're also here to recognize the families of the veterans who gave up so much. And we want you to know that we're proud that you wore that uniform—the uniform my dad had to take off to get a ride home from the Memphis airport to see his three little kids.”
Jett then introduced Fortune, who sang the National Anthem. Afterward, Mace Straubel of Rector First United Methodist Church provided the invocation.
Mayor Roofe was next to address the crowd, offering an official welcome and introducing Clay County Judge Mike Patterson. Roofe also asked all of the Vietnam-era veterans to stand and be recognized, along with the other veterans in attendance. She then led those assembled in the Pledge of Allegiance.
“Thank you so much, to me you're all heroes and rock stars,” she told the veterans on hand. “Thank you for all you did and the freedom you bought. Without all of you we couldn't enjoy the freedoms we have today.”
The mayor offered thanks to the organizers, committee, city workers and volunteers who made the event possible and prepared the location. Jett then had the privilege of introducing Fortune once again, as he performed the song “More Than Just a Name on a Wall.”
“Thank you all so much, it's quite a honor to be here today for such a special occasion,” Fortune told those assembled. “I do want to thank a few people, I want to thank Mr. Bill Carter from over here for having us. He called us a while back and asked us to do this and as I said at the time, it didn't matter what I had to do to get here to do it, I wanted to be here to say thank you.”
Fortune also had a special sentiment to share with the veterans from the Vietnam-era, noting “I also want to say to our Vietnam veterans these special words to you, and those words are “welcome home.” Thank you so much for being here.”
He then performed the song he had co-written in 1988, which tells the story of a mother's visit to the Vietnam War Memorial to see her son's name. During the performance volunteers further remembered those lost with the “soldier's cross” of boots, rifle and helmet at the edge of the stage.
Following the performance, Jett introduced Col. Nathan “Nate” Todd, director of the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs.
“Thank you Rector, thank you for caring and thank you for honoring these Vietnam veterans,” he noted. Todd then shared a poem, “I Am a Vietnam Veteran” with those on hand, and applauded the veterans in attendance for their service.
Afterward, he talked about the Vietnam War and the impact it had—noting of the nine million who served during this time some two million were in the region.
“This country owes a great debt to those Vietnam veterans” he said. “Here in the state of Arkansas we have over 80,000 Vietnam veterans. They came home and went back to farming, they came home and taught school, they came home and served in our police forces and they came home and they raised their children.”
Colonel Todd also noted the event on Saturday is likely to have far-reaching effect.
“And today, Rector, when I see these grandkids out here I know here in the state of Arkansas that generation served so our grandkids could have this opportunity,” he offered. “There will always be war, and rumors of war, but when I saw those kids watching the soldiers march today—waving their flags and smiling, I think that because of this ceremony we have empowered another generation of our kids, because of the example they have seen by our Vietnam veterans.”
In his job, Todd has also seen the issues which face Vietnam-era veterans, as he added. “Some are challenged, we need to help them to adjust and know they are thankful, as we are thankful for them and their service.”
In an effort to insure all veterans receive the benefits they deserve, as well as their families, Todd also encouraged them to contact the veterans services officer in their area.
“You are fortunate to have a good officer here in Clay County in Mr. (Tommy) Huggins,” he concluded.
Colonel Todd also noted many Vietnam-era veterans are still battling issues pertaining to Agent Orange, and he encourages all those affected to seek assistance.
“This area is served by an excellent facility at Poplar Bluff, and I encourage all veterans to seek the help they need,” he noted. “Especially if they're affected by Agent Orange, we need them to go and enroll in health care and they need to file a claim. It's not just for them, its for their spouses and their families.”
He also offered a special thank-you to the city of Rector for the effort.
“More and more of our soldiers today come from small town America with big patriotism, and that's what I experienced today here in Rector,” he concluded. “This was great.”
A special “POW/MIA” ceremony was also held, followed by the presentation of certificates and commemorative statues to several regional families who had lost members in Vietnam. Jim Larget, with American Legion Post #17, also made a special presentation on the American Flag and the role it has played in the history of the country's military.
Event sponsor Danny Ford, of Glen Sain Motors, also addressed those in attendance and helped hand out special commemorative pins to all the Vietnam veterans on hand. He also applauded the efforts of the organizers, most notably that of Pruett, in making the event possible.
Larget also presented Mayor Roofe with a commemorative boxed American flag to the city in recognition of the effort.
Following the ceremony at Veterans Memorial Park, the Rector First United Methodist Church hosted a fish fry coordinated by Gregg Sain and Ron Kemp. Organizers reported veterans and their families were fed for free, with some 375 attending.
Saturday evening a large crowd packed the Rector Community Center as Fortune, and his band, performed.