Vietnam veterans were honored for their service during a ceremony in Niota Tuesday morning.
The annual Vietnam Veterans Day Ceremony was held at the train depot in Niota, as the room was filled with veterans and members of the community taking part in the recognition.
Richard Smith led the room in prayer and the Tennessee Wesleyan University Concert Choir sang patriotic songs throughout the event.
Niota Mayor Lois Preece thanked the veterans in attendance for their service, as well.
“It’s people like you who keep us moving and keep us free,” she said.
After Tina Morgan talked about the POW/MIA table that was set up in remembrance, McMinn County Veteran Services Officer Susan Peglow reflected on the sacrifice that veterans go through.
“That is something we have to remember — freedom comes at a cost,” she said.
The keynote speaker for the event was Air Force veteran Carl Parlatore, who said that he’s glad to see Vietnam veterans like himself getting recognition after the negative reaction they received upon coming home.
“They say that World War II veterans are the greatest generation and I fully agree with that. Because of the great job they did, we’re still free,” he said. “But I would submit to you that the Vietnam veteran generation is a close second. We put up with a lot more than World War II veterans did. The country was divided and people were burning their draft cards.”
Parlatore recalled one instance while he was overseas that a person came up to his mother at the grocery store and asked “how does it feel to be the mother of a baby killer?”
At another point, Parlatore thought back to a man who said that if he were drafted into the Vietnam War he would move across the border into Canada.
“The day I heard that, I lost all respect for his manhood,” Parlatore said.
He then went through several notes about Vietnam veterans, including that they are less likely to be in prison than their non-veteran contemporaries; their personal income exceeds non-Vietnam veterans by 18%; two-thirds of those who served were volunteers; 70% of those killed were volunteers; 97% of Vietnam veterans discharged were under honorable conditions; and 85% of Vietnam veterans made a successful transition to civilian life.
He also noted that today, 87% of the American people hold Vietnam veterans in high regard.
“I remember when I came back from Vietnam, people weren’t very nice to me,” he said.
Parlatore also recalled a couple of stories from the war that have lingered with him.
He talked about a man he knew nicknamed Shorty who had always wanted to be in the Marines and ended up enlisting while Parlatore enrolled in college. About a year later, Parlatore said he heard that Shorty had been hit by an AK-47 in Vietnam and was in a Queens, New York, hospital.
When he went to visit Shorty, Parlatore said that he noticed a “thousand mile stare” from his friend.
“His soul had been ripped out of him,” Parlatore said.
The second story was from Parlatore’s time in Vietnam, when he flew an F-4 jet.
“I flew that airplane and I loved it,” he said. “I flew the F-16 too, but my first love was the F-4.”
He said he got to Vietnam on June 11, 1960 and by Sept. 3 he had flown 56 missions. On the latter day, he said they received the order to be on alert — which meant be ready to have jets in the air within 15 minutes of a signal. The goal would be to provide cover for the troops on the ground.
Once that signal happened, they were in the air and trying to fly high enough to avoid the small arms fire.
He said they were entering a tough situation, but “the guys on the ground needed us and we were going to go in there.”
At one point they had to lower the plane to drop a bomb and that’s when Parlatore realized they had been hit.
“I said to myself ‘what’s that,’ but I knew what it was,” he said.
He was able to eject himself from the plane and ended up landing in a tree after his helmet, gloves and watch had blown off.
“The air at 450 knots is not a gas, it’s a solid,” he said.
However, he said he was alive and that’s what mattered.
“I was thankful to be alive,” he said. “God was good to me that day.”
His day wasn’t over yet, though, as he began to get shot at and had to radio for assistance.
At one point a helicopter arrived and a couple of soldiers got him out of the tree, but the helicopter was shot down as they tried to get back to it.
“I’m laying down and I can’t move,” he said.
In a second attempt, another helicopter arrived and, despite getting shot at, it successfully rescued him.
“It comes in, lands and they threw me in and we took off,” Parlatore said. “(The pilot) was a very brave guy.”
During the incident, Parlatore’s leg was injured and he was taken to a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) to recover.
While there, he said he began to feel sorry for himself until he saw some young soldiers from a separate incident get brought in.
“These kids are bloody messes and I’m sitting there saying ‘you feel sorry for yourself,’” he recalled asking himself in that moment.
As he was in the MASH unit, he said shots began to rain into it and he was aided by others again.
“One kid covers me over with his body on my legs and the other kid covers my body with his body,” Parlatore said.
Parlatore closed out his speech by quoting William Shakespeare’s Henry V, Act IV as how he looked back on his time in Vietnam.
“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; for he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother; be he never so vile this day shall gentle his condition; and gentlemen in England now a-bed shall think themselves accursed they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks that fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s Day,” he quoted.