MEDINA — A small group of Vietnam War veterans, along with family members and friends, recognized Vietnam War Veterans Day this past weekend at Veterans Memorial Hall on North Broadway Street.
The Medina Vietnam Symposium on Saturday evening included food, a PowerPoint presentation about Operation Starlite — the first major U.S. military offensive of the Vietnam War — and a viewing of “We Were Soldiers,” a 2002 movie about the Battle of la Drang in November 1965.
The event, one day after the National Vietnam War Veterans Day on Friday, was organized by American Legion Post 202 in Medina. The federal Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017 designated March 29 as the day to remember and honor Vietnam War veterans.
“Our young people need to know about this,” said Medina resident Joni Dyer, who attended the symposium with her husband, Bill Dyer, who was a U.S. Army soldier in the early 1960s. “They need to know about Vietnam, World War I, World Ward II, the Korean War and Desert Storm. They need to understand what this country is all about.”
“Why don’t we learn — not just us, but everybody — how horrible war is?” Joni Dyer said. “And what does it get us?”
“We Were Soldiers,” starring Mel Gibson, showed war in its brutality and ferociousness. Some veterans who came Saturday for the food, fellowship and PowerPoint presentation left before the movie started. Others walked out during the movie.
“These movies are tough to watch for Vietnam veterans,” said Dave Taylor, commander of American Legion Post 202. “I chose this Vietnam movie because I thought it was the best and most accurate.”
Don Bratton, an Army platoon leader in Vietnam in 1969, agreed.
“There are so many movies produced about Vietnam that I really didn’t like,” Bratton said. “They portrayed the solider as a nut, doing crazy things. That’s not what I saw there. They always performed honorably, and they did their work well.”
Bratton said the faraway looks on the faces of soldiers in combat were accurately depicted in the film.
“Those who saw combat, you could look in their faces and see it,” Bratton said. “Their eyes were hollow — a hollow stare. The exhaustion, the tiredness, they just had enough.”
Bill Dyer said it was the first time he had seen “We Were Soldiers.”
“My brother was in Vietnam, and when I asked him if he wanted to see the movie tonight, he didn’t want to go,” Bill Dyer said. “I probably understand why now. He saw it once, and maybe he doesn’t want to go through it a second time.”
The end of the movie reminded viewers that some soldiers, after serving in Vietnam, did not receive a warm welcome home.
“I experienced the same thing when I came home,” Bratton said. “People would get in my face and call me names.”
Bratton said that due to the unpopularity of the Vietnam War, he never acknowledged his military service whenever veterans were recognized during community events in Medina Public Square. That changed only in 2013, after he attended a reunion at Fort Benning in Georgia and saw current members of his former brigade.
“When I met the soldiers and commanders of that brigade, and saw how professional they were, I could not stand silent anymore,” Bratton said. “I have to make sure those following me don’t experience what I experienced.”
Both Bratton and Bill Dyer said Vietnam veterans are receiving more respect today.
“But I think a lot of the young kids today still don’t understand,” Dyer said.