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Every year as part of Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day, I like to take time to reflect on an experience that forever changed the lives of so many Americans. This year is distinct because last February, our nation witnessed the passing of Lieutenant General Hal Moore, who embodied the spirit and dedication of my generation of Veterans. Hal Moore led a battalion in the Battle of Ia Drang. His leadership and the sacrifice of his Soldiers were depicted in both a book and the film, We Were Soldiers. Long afterwards, Lt. Gen. Moore continued to serve our nation both in and out of uniform. This year, I want to encourage all Americans to remember Lt. Gen. Moore and use his life as an example of the values we should all strive to uphold.
Given the changing face of our military and efforts by members of Congress to improve readiness, I also want to recognize the different types of service and roles that Vietnam Veterans contributed to the overall war effort. As many know, I started Vietnam as an Infantry Platoon Commander leading Marines through hills and jungles in a war without any front lines. My unit and many like it completed tough missions in a difficult environment, but this was only possible because of the hard work and sacrifice of other troops throughout the country. Support troops from all services completed logistical, administrative, and maintenance duties, while the US Navy and Coast Guard stood sentinel just miles off the coast. Nearly 3,000,000 Americans served in Vietnam, including nearly 11,000 women, and each has a unique story to share. As we age, I ask the younger generations to ask their grandparents to reflect on their experiences, both in the theatre of war and upon their return to the United States.
There is another type of Vietnam Veteran that I want to honor this year. They are the South Vietnamese Veterans that are now US citizens. Many South Vietnamese Soldiers fought alongside US troops throughout the war. After the Fall of Saigon, many Republic of Vietnam Soldiers with their comrades fled to the United States. Today, California has the highest concentration of South Vietnamese Veterans in the nation. We should remember their sacrifice and their embrace of an adopted nation. Today, many of their children are proud members of the US military.
Every two years, the Marines from my old battalion gather for a reunion. We have solemn moments that tug at our hearts as we remember our fallen, but we also laugh and tell stories of the absurd moments that can only occur in combat. America might never understand our experience, but we should take every opportunity to relate to our family and friends what we can. The war changed us in many ways, but the most important effect is the bond we share with each other. To my brothers and sisters in California and across the United States, I want to say “Welcome Home.”
Col. Paul Cook (Ret.) represents California’s 8th Congressional District and currently serves on the House Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, and Natural Resources committees. He served in the United States Marine Corps for 26 years, earning two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star Medal with a V for Valor.