HARRISBURG, Ill. (Nov. 10, 2015)— This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam war. Southeastern Illinois College welcomed and honored local Vietnam veterans at the annual Veterans Recognition Ceremony on Friday, Nov. 6.
Vietnam war veteran and SIC softball coach Donn Gines was the keynote speaker at the event, and he spoke to pay tribute to those who have served in the United States military during the Vietnam War.
“The Vietnam War holds a complicated place in the collective American memory and often Vietnam veterans are considered forgotten veterans” said Dean of Students and Enrollment Services Chad Flannery. “Regardless of feelings towards the conflict, I think we can all agree that our men and women who served in Vietnam are no less deserving of honor and celebration than veterans from other periods.”
Gines joined the United States Marine Corps in 1967, and roughly a year later he found himself in Vietnam’s Northern Province of Quang Tri and the Marble Mountains south of Da Nang. Serving as a helicopter door gunner, he was engaged in over 140 hostile fire fights with the enemy.
Gines spoke of how survivor’s guilt, and the struggles of the silence coming home from war.
“Everyone wanted to survive, everyone wanted to come home, but for each guy who did come home they think one thing– ‘I survived’, and they will always ask themselves ‘why?’,” said Gines.
When Gines came home from war, he said that he didn’t run into any problems like that of previous wars.
“I didn’t come home to protestors or people yelling at me,” said Gines. “I came home to silence and that was worse than anything. Nobody said anything. It was like I had never been to war. That bothered me more than anything.”
Gines is the recipient of the National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, Combat Aircrew Insignia, the Air Medal, the Combat Action Ribbon with 14 Airstrike Awards and the Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm and Frame.
The National Anthem was sung by SIC Spanish and English instructor Jennifer Roehm and the Pledge of Allegiance was led by the Pre-K class of the Mary Jo Oldham Center for Child Study. Dean of Students and Enrollment Services Chad Flannery welcomed the audience to the ceremony. SIC students also gave patriotic tribute. Kayla DePriest played the piano while Emily Green sand Amazing Grace. During this time a picture presentation by Larrisa Bond and Tori Dewar played. Brooklyn Lewis gave the benediction at the end of the ceremony.
Gines was also joined by members of the Eldorado VFW Post 3479; Eldorado American Legion Post 169; and Kathy R. Morris, Regent and Sharon L. Tanner, Vice Regent of the Michael Hillegas Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution to remember those who died defending their country and to support those who have returned home from service or who are currently serving in the military.
“It is a privilege to honor our veterans who fought for our freedom to be able to gather like this,” said Emily Henson, Coordinator of Veterans Services. “We take so much for granted, but I am always humbled at the Veterans Recognition Ceremony. As Gines said, silence is worse than the protests. During these ceremonies, we are able to break that silence and celebrate their bravery, courage, and efforts so we can keep our freedom.”
Flannery added, “Some would argue that there are few absolutes in life, but I would argue that one absolute, one constant, must be our honor and respect for our veterans and active duty service members from any era. These men and women have sacrificed so much on our behalf, and honoring them is the very least that we can do.”
Currently, close to 60 veterans and dependents of veterans currently attend SIC using veteran education benefits. Certifying and recertifying educational benefits, special recognition events, discounts, free access to the fitness center, care packages, assistance with grants and scholarships, college credit for military experience, an outreach program designed to help with accessing local resources, employment information, medical benefits and health care benefits for the disabled are just some of the additional things the college and its Veterans Service Office have provided its veterans over the years.