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Honoring legacy: VFW commemorates Vietnam Veterans Memorial Day

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More than 20 years ago, 35-year veteran Col. Ray Boland thanked World War II veterans at a ceremony honoring them in Eau Claire.

He was astounded to hear that for many that was the first time they had heard that — but being a Vietnam veteran who served two tours during the war, Boland understood how that felt.

“What we experienced,” Boland said to a packed Veterans of Foreign Wars clubhouse in Eau Claire on Thursday afternoon, referencing the tumultuous culture and greeting Vietnam veterans were faced with upon returning home,”was really not that unique. ... We’re part of something bigger than Vietnam. We’re part of a legacy.”

Boland, the former Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs secretary, joined other Vietnam veterans, Gov. Scott Walker and other Wisconsin military officials for a Vietnam War Commemoration on Thursday afternoon. The event, organized by Boland, Medal of Honor recipient Gary Wetzel and a local committee, celebrated and honored veterans, prisoners of wars, those missing in action and those who died overseas, on the first anniversary of Vietnam Veterans Memorial Day.

The 132nd Army Band of the Wisconsin National Guard was on hand to perform the national anthem and other patriotic songs and introductions. The event also featured a Missing Man ceremony, honoring those who are missing in action and prisoners of war.

Walker also presented Wetzel, Boland and the Vietnam War Commemoration Committee with plaques proclaiming March 29, 2018, as Vietnam Veterans Memorial Day in Wisconsin.

The holiday was originally proclaimed by President Barack Obama on March 29, 2012 — 50 years after the conflict ended — and the holiday was officially designated in 2017 by President Donald Trump. Though the Vietnam War ended in 1972, it was on March 29, 1973, that the last of the U.S. troops left Vietnam, said Dan Zimmerman, secretary of the WDVA.

After giving a brief history of the holiday, Zimmerman emceed the event, featuring Bee Yang with the Wisconsin Lao Veterans of America, Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, adjunct general of the Wisconsin National Guard, and a rendition of “God Bless America” by Wisconsin State Rep. Warren Petryk (R-Eleva).

Yang spoke about his memories of his father waking up every night, unable to sleep and thinking about the war. Yang would listen to the stories his father told on those sleepless nights.

Dunbar, who claimed to be part of the generation following those who served in Vietnam, commended the Vietnam veterans for working tirelessly to ensure other veterans were treated better.

“America has followed your lead,” Dunbar said. “It’s extraordinary your contribution and your service.”

Gov. Scott Walker was the event’s keynote speaker. He told stories of his own memories of Vietnam veterans and veterans of both world wars, including watching a chaperone on a school trip cry at the Vietnam memorial upon reading names of people he knew and a conversation he had with a mutlti-war veteran.

Walker also commemorated the 1,239 Wisconsin veterans who died in the Vietnam War, and claimed bipartisan support of honoring Vietnam veterans.

“This is not a red or a blue issue,” Walker said. “This is a red, white and blue issue.”

Walker discusses special election

Following the event on Thursday, Walker expressed comments about being ordered by Madison judges to call a special election for June 12. Officially called by the governor Thursday morning, candidates in the 1st Senate District and the 42nd Assembly District have until April 17 to file their paperwork. A primary will follow on May 15.

Walker stuck to his claims that he did not feel there was enough time to call a special election prior to the spring 2018 election when the one seat in the Senate and one in the Assembly were vacated by Republicans to fill Walker’s administration in December. Democrats have claimed this was a political, party move by Walker.

Now forced to call the election, Walker claimed the move by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in suing over the special election and Democrats’ demands for the election as “a waste of taxpayer money.”

Walker also claimed the election will only confuse voters in the districts as ballots for primaries for the general election in November will be set by June 1.

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