Officials at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park marked their Flag Day by hosting dozens of Vietnam War veterans for a special ceremony.
Park officials and Congressman Brian Higgins joined to present the guests with the America Vietnam War Commemoration pin. An estimated 75 percent of docents volunteering at the Naval Park are Vietnam veterans and many were among the honorees.
"The commemoration pledges to honor the United States veterans who served active duty in the United States Armed Forces between November 1, 1955 and May 15, 1975 regardless of location," explained Higgins during his remarks.
Students from Cheektowaga Middle School played the national anthem for the honored guests at the start of the ceremony. Following remarks by a handful of speakers, each veteran was called up individually to receive the pin.
Several speakers recalled the less-than-enthusiastic welcome back many veterans got when they came home from the politlically and socially divisive war.
"So forget not how upon their return, because that's been well-documented but underappreciated," said Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park board chair Terry McGuire. "Forget not how they were disrespected many years by other veterans and veteran groups of other wars. They had to form their own veteran service organization, Vietnam Veterans of America. Forget not the legislative hurdles and bureaucracy that they had to fight against Agent Orange and the unseen and hidden wounds of war."
Among those honored Friday was Army Sergeant First Class William Roland Hayes, who served with Airborne and saw action in the Tet Offensive. His son served in Iraq and acknowledges the younger veteran did get the hero's welcome many Vietnam-era comrades did not get.
Hayes, who throughout the afternoon kept an infectious enthusiasm and smile, also acknowledged that the general public has come around in more recent years and given the Vietnam veterans more respect.
But he won't forget how it used to be.
"We were behind the 8-ball for a long time," Hayes said. "I can remember coming from Vietnam and looking at TV. And what did you have? You had programs that were always talking about a Vietnam vet that has gone absolutely berserk. So, when you see that, guess what the population does? They see that and, automatically, when they see a Vietnam vet they think we're (insane)."