NEWTON, Iowa -- A promise that will be kept. "They will not be forgotten," echoed a large crowd in Newton. As the calendar looks ahead to spring, at least two-hundred in Jasper County took a somber look back. "It's been fifty years. It brings back a lot of memories," said veteran Bud Pickett.
New and old memories merging at the county's Inaugural National Vietnam War Veterans Day ceremony, which was made an official day of recognition a year ago under President Donald Trump. Pickett said, "Seeing a lot of fellow veterans here today, it just sends a chill down me."
Pickett served as a combat engineer for a year in Vietnam. He said, "I came back early. I was wounded. A purple heart veteran." Despite his sacrifice, when Pickett and fellow veterans returned from war, they did not receive a hero's welcome. "They yelled at us, they threw fruit and different things and called us baby killers. It just wasn't right," Pickett said.
Organizers like Doug Bishop of the Jasper County Veterans Alliance hoped the ceremony could help mend some of that heartache. "That's the reception they should have been given in 1960, 1965, 1969, 1972. So we made sure they got that."
Over 115,000 Iowans served in the Vietnam War. Three-thousand were from Jasper County. The ceremony also paid tribute to the six Jasper County soldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice and never returned home. "I knew two or three of them," said Pickett. He added, "We used to kind of run around together a little bit." Saying goodbye to their fellow Jasper County veterans and thank you to the ones still alive today.. "Our history doesn't always get told in the classrooms. Our history was standing out here with seventy-year old gray-haired men with their Vietnam vet caps on and us telling them welcome home," said Bishop.
Including the six Jasper County residents killed in action, 867 Iowans died or disappeared during the Vietnam War.