Drew: We owe them the same debt

  • Published
  • By John Ingle
  • 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs

WICHITA FALLS, Texas – A stiff southern breeze blew across Lake Wichita here March 29, 2022, an invisible reminder of the natural movement of air in the atmosphere that can only be realized by its feel and visual effect on objects around.

Part disruptive, and part refreshing.

In a sense, it’s symbolic of the return home of men and women who donned U.S. military uniforms during the Vietnam War. Disrespectful. Disturbing.

But, the nation made an about face when it comes to those who serve, a tough lesson learned over the roughly 40 years since the war ended.

Brig. Gen. Lyle K. Drew, Sheppard Air Force Base and 82nd Training Wing commander, addressed those hard, cold facts and the change in heart during the celebration of a new Vietnam War memorial in Wichita Falls. He said the U.S. military has deployed and fought in some areas that are hotbeds of controversy and political discord, from Afghanistan and Iraq to Syria and Somalia. But the support of the American public is what has been different when Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines return home.

“Today, a young Airman in uniform can hardly walk through an airport without being thanked for their service, or eat at a restaurant without someone paying for their meal,” he said. “For more than 30 years, the U.S. military has been the most trusted and most respected institution in the United States.”

Drew reminded those in attendance of the role nearby Sheppard AFB played in the process of repatriating American prisoners of war when they came home during Operation Homecoming. He described an Air Force C-141 Starlifter, a cargo plane, arriving at Sheppard in February 1973. Aboard the aircraft were 38 Americans – officers, enlisted and civilians – returning home after years in captivity.

Images of family members receiving their loved ones were captured during such arrivals. Excitement from children seeing their father. The embrace of a husband and wife, her head on his shoulder with her hand pressing his head against hers.

This was the exception to the rule, Drew said.

“For most, there were no ticker-tape parades and no crowds at the airport to welcome them home,” he said. “Too many were greeted instead with disregard or disrespect. Many still struggle with deep wounds, seen and unseen.”

Drew said veterans deserve more than what those returning from Vietnam received. Many, who didn’t volunteer, fought valiantly and brilliantly, he said. Many paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of democracy. Memorials such as the one unveiled in Wichita Falls are examples of a country righting a wrong.

“… We as a nation owe them the same debt that we owe to combat veterans of all wars, regardless of our personal views or politics,” he said.

“For Those We Shall Never Forget” emblazons the bronze base of the statue, which depicts a soldier consoling a medic holding a folded American flag. Also inscribed on the plaque are the words, “In honor and grateful appreciation of Soldiers of the United States of America who answered our nation’s call during the Vietnam War.”

In closing, the general addressed Vietnam veterans in attendance and that promise to never forget.

“We honor your service and your courage. We promise, in your name, never to allow our political persuasions or personal opinions to blind us to the sacrifice made by those who bear the burden of combat in the service of our nation,” he said. “We vow, in your memory, never to disregard or disrespect the men and women who, in our behalf, pay the price of freedom.”