Hundreds of local Vietnam War era veterans and their families and friends gathered Saturday morning at Antioch Park in Merriam to be honored for their service.
The celebration, held in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Defense’s ongoing 50th Anniversary Commemoration of the Vietnam War, took place at the Vietnam Memorial Plaza in the park.
The event marked Johnson County’s 32nd annual Veterans Day celebration. The Veterans Day program traditionally honors all local veterans from all wars with an annual focus of selecting specific veteran groups for special recognition. Korean War veterans were recognized last year, Gold Star families in 2016 and World War II veterans in 2015.
More than 400 veterans of the Vietnam War era applied to receive Vietnam War 50th Anniversary lapel pins from the U.S. Department of Defense and a Certificate of Appreciation from Johnson County.
Johnson County and nine chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) were designated Commemorative Partners by the Defense Department to present the lapel pins and other public recognition to veterans of the Vietnam War era for honorable military service from June 1, 1954, to May 15, 1975.
The event also featured the Kansas Society Sons of the American Revolution, including members from two local chapters. The color guard was dressed in Colonial attire with muskets and swords.
Featured speakers included U.S. Senator Jerry Moran, R-Kansas; Colonel Roger Murdock, chief of the joint staff at the Kansas National Guard; and Jimmie Spencer representing the U.S. Defense Department Vietnam War Commemoration.
Ed Eilert, chairman of the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners, emceed the program.
“I say to each one of you, God bless each one of you and God bless America,” Eilert told the crowd.
Denise Bullock, of Leawood, served as chaplain. She is Kansas State DAR chaplain.
Program activities included:
- Patriotic music and songs by the American Legion Band of Greater Kansas City and the Kansas City Chorus of Sweet Adelines.
- Presentation of colors by the Johnson County Sheriff’s Honor Guard and the Kansas Society Sons of the American Revolution Honor Guard.
- Placement of memorial wreaths.
- A rifle salute by the VFW Post 7397 in Lenexa.
- Playing of “Echo Taps.”
The Johnson County Park & Recreation District provided hot beverages and refreshments for veterans and their guests.
The Vietnam Memorial Plaza originally was dedicated on Veterans Day in 1974 and rededicated on Memorial Day 1998. It was the Kansas City metro area’s first public memorial to 57 Johnson County servicemen killed or missing in action from the Vietnam War. The project was designed and built by concrete artist Leon Lickteig of Greeley, Kan. Lickteig incorporated a dragon in the walkway of the memorial plaza, naming the sculpture, “The Dragon Lives,” along with images of bamboo shoots and leaves.