By George Slaughter
With today’s headlines focused on potential terrorist activities and tensions with North Korea, it’s easy to forget those who served America in earlier conflicts, such as the Vietnam War.
Saturday, at the clubhouse in the Heritage Grand community, 25125 Heritage Grand, approximately 65 local veterans and their families were remembered and honored for their service during that era, from the 1960s through 1977.
The program by which they are remembered, the “United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration,” is a cooperative effort between the federal government and various entities.
Veterans—and in some cases, widows or families—are presented with commemorative pins. The front of the pin has an American bald eagle and the inscription, “Vietnam War Veteran.” The back of the pin has the inscription, “A grateful nation thanks and honors you.”
To be eligible for a pin, a recipient must have served in the U.S. military at any time between November 1, 1955 and May 15, 1975, regardless of station.
One volunteer helping with this recognition program is Ron Ahles, who in his day job works in the financial industry in Houston. He’s semi-retired from that role, working three days a week. But during the Vietnam War era, he served in the U.S. Army Reserve, eventually becoming a captain.
While Ahles served in the military during that period, his number was never called to serve in Vietnam. But he came to know many who did go to Southeast Asia, both at that time and today.
“Having gone through ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) in the 1960s and served in the 1970s, I experienced what the Vietnam War was,” Ahles said. “It was a very much hated war, and consequently, and sadly, when these brave men came back, they were not given the honor or respect they were due. I think that what happened over the years is that the government has finally realized that something was missing.”
Ahles said the reaction he’s received a “very touching” reaction when he’s distributed pins. On one occasion, Ahles said, he gave pins to two young men whose father served in Vietnam, returned to the United States after his service, and died heartbroken that his service had never been recognized.
“I’ve had the pleasure of giving pins to people who actually went to Vietnam,” Ahles said. He’s also given pins to veterans from that era who, like him, served stateside or in other countries, but whose number was never called to serve in Vietnam.
“I like to distribute pins as many as I can,” Ahles said. “It’s been an honor and privilege for me.”
Heritage Grand resident Monte Ikner, who served in Army Intelligence during the Cold War years, was a key organizer of Saturday’s event.
“In my opinion, the Vietnam military man was forgotten upon his arrival home,” Ikner said. “It should be said that these Americans fought for our country harder, perhaps, than any military force simply because of the type of warfare they were involved in, which can be proven by look at the needs of our veterans from that war—loss of limbs, mental problems such as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)—that were not brought to light until we saw the tragedies of the Vietnam War.”
According to the program web site, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said that nine million Americans served on active duty in the U.S. armed forces during the Vietnam War, with seven million alive today.
The program was established through federal law and a presidential proclamation signed by then-President Barack Obama in 2012. It was created in part to thank and honor Vietnam War veterans for their service. It continues through Veterans Day 2025.
Ikner said the commission’s efforts to offer these lapel pins is commendable.
“Certainly, our veterans in Heritage Grand will wear it proudly,” Ikner said. “I feel the commission should attempt to further recognize our Vietnam veterans.”
Ikner described the Vietnam veterans in the Heritage Grand community as a proud bunch.
“Typically they stick amongst themselves,” Ikner said. “To see this era of men that was present yesterday, each among themselves were very proud to have served our country. For them to be recognized together was probably the finest thing our community could have done for them because they are a ‘together’ bunch. They typically don’t look for any limelight. It was not a big deal to any of them, but it was recognition and they were thankful.”