Vietnam-Era Vets Honored

By Chris Fischer
Posted 5/1/24

Congressman Dusty Johnson made a stop at the Spink County courthouse for a Vietnam-era veterans pinning ceremony on April 25th. Those who served during the Vietnam era – considered to be from …

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Vietnam-Era Vets Honored


Congressman Dusty Johnson made a stop at the Spink County courthouse for a Vietnam-era veterans pinning ceremony on April 25th. Those who served during the Vietnam era – considered to be from ‘55 to ‘75 – were eligible to receive the honor.
Honorees at the Redfield ceremony included: Marvin Bohnet, Army; Darrin Fortin, Marines; Jim Fortin, Navy; Keith Fortin, Army; Larry Fortin, Marines; Ronald Fortin, Army; Ted Kimball, Marines; Harry Knapp, Army; James Rush, Army; Perry Schmidt, Navy; Bob Schutte, Army; Robert Sieber, Air Force; and Donald Van Dover, Army.
In the simple ceremony, each veteran was called to come forward. He was told “A grateful nation thanks and honors you for your service.” He received a commemorative pin and a handshake from Rep. Johnson.
Each veteran was invited to share some experiences. Most of the veterans did a tour in Vietnam. Some were drafted, while others enlisted. One vet opted to stay in the U.S., and ended up firing cannons during performances of the 1812 Overture by Tchiakovsky. Others spoke of time on boats or planes. The audience respectfully listened.
Larry Fortin received pins for his brothers, who were unable to attend. Two of the veterans were honored posthumously. BelRae Sieber received a pin for Robert Sieber, and Mark Keppler received a pin on behalf of Donald Van Dover.

After the ceremony, the courthouse foyer was filled with a cacophony of voices. Former service members chatted about their shared experiences. Overall, the mood was one of unity, and of appreciation. Veterans stated that they were glad that Vietnam Era Vets were being recognized. Perry Schmidt said that he felt glad, and it was “nice recognition.” BelRae Sieber, who attended in remembrance of Robert Sieber, said that the honor was “Very touching… but it hurts.” Robert Sieber passed away in 2013. BelRae Sieber explained “The man was strong. He had defenses all around, like layers.”
There was some discussion about veterans, especially those who were sent to war, not wanting to talk about their experiences. Vietnam veterans in particular were known to have a harder time upon coming home. Whereas after previous wars returning soldiers were hailed as heroes and thrown parades, Vietnam vets mostly did not receive similar recognition. One factor was societal upheaval. Another was accessibility, via tv news. Viewers at home could see video from war-torn Vietnam. On top of this, there was much less favor for the war than for, say, the second World War. Citizens felt freer to protest. When veterans came home, they may have been treated as if it was no big deal, or even as if they were in the wrong for serving. To this day, there is disagreement over whether the conflict could indeed be classified as a war.
In 2008, President Bush signed a law which, in part, gave the Department of Defense authority to prepare to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam conflict. In 2012, President Obama officially kicked off the Vietnam Era Veterans 50th Anniversary Commemoration. In 2017, President Trump signed a law naming March 29th as National Vietnam War Veterans Day. In 2022, President Biden offered a proclamation stating his support for the ongoing commemoration.
South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard proclaimed March 30, 2018 to be “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.” Similar proclamations from other states, territories, and commonwealths, as well as from Washington, D.C., were also issued in the last several years.
A big part of these commemorative efforts was to recognize those who served who may have not been honored when they came home. During the ceremony in Redfield, Johnson said “This is the greatest country that’s ever been, but that doesn’t mean that it’s perfect. If you need any evidence of its imperfection, you can start by seeing how we treated the people in uniform between 1955 and 1975. Not everybody got a bad welcome home, but there are plenty who do not have good stories.”
Local and regional organizations work in partnership with Congress and the military as part of the Vietnam Era Veteran 50th Anniversary Commemoration. Spink County Veterans Service Officer Steve Wollman was on hand for the ceremony in Redfield. As Johnson explained, the ceremony was “a joint partnership between the Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs, and the United States House of Representatives.”
Any veteran who served during the era, regardless of whether or not they went to war, was eligible to be nominated for the honor. Nominations could be filled out online, or via phone call.
The pins handed out to each veteran were roughly the size of a quarter. Per the official site (, symbols were used as part of the design. These included: an eagle, for courage, honor, and dedicated service to the Nation; the color blue, for perseverance, justice, and vigilance; laurel, for victory, strength, and integrity; stripes, reminiscent of the American flag; and stars, to recognize allies during the Vietnam conflict: Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, Thailand, and the U.S. The statement of gratitude was purposefully placed “closest to the heart of the wearer.”
The attending veterans were all proud to have served their country. Some stated that being in the service changed their lives. Another thing that Johnson said during the ceremony resonated: “The only thing that really matters is that when your name was called, you answered.”