‘Never too late to pay tribute’: Arizona ceremony honors Vietnam War veterans

A three-volley salute is fired in honor of Vietnam veterans at the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona on Tuesday. (Photo by Samantha Chow/Cronkite News)

Randy Heard, director of the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona, speaks during a wreath-laying ceremony to commemorate Vietnam War veterans. (Photo by Samantha Chow/Cronkite News)

“It’s never too late to pay tribute to them and give them honor,” Randy Heard, director of the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona, says during a ceremony honoring Vietnam veterans. (Photo by Samantha Chow/Cronkite News)

The grave marker of a Vietnam War veteran, who died in 1981, at the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona. More than 58,200 Americans died in America’s long war in Vietnam. (Photo by Samantha Chow/Cronkite News)

National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona caretakers, directors and others pose for a photo with a wreath dedicated to honor Vietnam War veterans. (Photo by Samantha Chow/Cronkite News)

CAVE CREEK – America’s appreciation of its military veterans hasn’t always been as public as it is today. Veterans returning from Vietnam weren’t hosted as heroes or honored with parades. Strangers didn’t thank them for their service.

On Tuesday, National Vietnam War Veterans Day, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona honored these veterans with a private wreath-laying ceremony.

Randy Heard, director of the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona, compared his homecoming from Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm with how Vietnam veterans came home.

Leilani Ballard, a caretaker at the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona, plays taps on the bugle during a wreath-laying ceremony to honor Vietnam veterans at the cemetery in Cave Creek on March 29, 2022. (Photo by Samantha Chow/Cronkite News)

“We came home to marching bands and cheering crowds,” Heard said. “I have lots of friends and family members that are Vietnam veterans that tell a much different story.”

The U.S. involvement in Vietnam from 1954 to 1973 was bitterly divisive, and 58,220 U.S. troops died in the war, according to federal archives. Uncounted others suffered lifelong trauma from their service in Southeast Asia.

Although Vietnam veterans didn’t get the welcome home they deserved, Heard said, “it’s never too late to pay tribute to them and give them honor.”

In 2012, President Barack Obama proclaimed March 29 as National Vietnam War Veterans Day, and in 2017, President Donald Trump made it a recurring national holiday.

March 29, 1973, was the day the last U.S. troops departed from South Vietnam.

Samantha Chow suh-man-thuh chow (she/her/hers)
News Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Samantha Chow expects to graduate in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and plans to pursue a master’s degree in mass communication. Chow, who has interned as a photographer with Arizona Highways, Phoenix Magazine and Mesa Public Schools, is a photographer at ASU Media Relations. She is working in the Phoenix news bureau.

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