When Vietnam War Veteran Cynthia Gatlin came home from theater, she did so with a renewed sense of appreciation of where she grew up and the country that she physically left behind for over a year.
As a U.S. Air Force staff sergeant medic treating and evacuating the wounded and causalities through Thailand, Gatlin saw things that she never thought a 21-year-old should experience.
“You never forget the people, the camaraderie, the sights and the smells. Unfortunately, you never forget the smell of death,” said Gatlin.
When Gatlin returned home in 1971, she found a country that wasn’t welcoming of Vietnam Veterans and was quick to put her service and memories behind her. Nearly 48-years later, thanks to a simple National Vietnam War Veterans Day event put on at the Dallas VA Medical Center, Cynthia Gatlin finally felt she could share her story in person, and visually through a photograph, truly completing her journey home.
“I’m very emotional today,” said Gatlin. “Some of the things I’ve shared with my fellow Vietnam Veterans here today I’ve never told anyone, including my own family.”
Gatlin joined some 70 other Vietnam War Veterans who were recognized for their service by the leaders of VA North Texas and the Dallas Fort Worth National Cemetery, Dr. Stephen Holt and Douglas Maddox, with a service pin, certificate of appreciation and a professional portrait to honor their service and sacrifice to the nation.
Dr. Holt thanked the honored Vietnam War Veterans and the many VA North Texas employees and patients who watched and participated in the event by expressing the magnitude of their contributions to the way of life that all Americans now enjoy.
“Our Vietnam War Veterans fought a noble cause that eventually resulted in the ending of the Cold War and the realization of many of the freedoms found in this world, today, and they did so with little or no recognition when the job was done,” said Holt, a retired U.S. Air Force Colonel with 24 years of service.
The chance to recognize and place a service pin on the chest of Vietnam War Veterans held a special place in the heart of Dallas Fort Worth National Cemetery Director, Douglas Maddox.
“I remember being in grade school, watching the on television and writing letters to soldiers serving in Vietnam,” said Maddox. “To be able to thank them for their service and honor them with a small token of our appreciation is humbling and a great honor.”
The Veteran portraits taken at the event are part of VA North Texas’ Faces of Service public affairs program that since its inception in 2017 had captured and told the stories of over 500 Veterans through Pulse magazine, social media, and several local and national media outlets.
About the Author: Jeffrey Clapper is the Public Affairs Officer for the VA North Texas Health Care System, a decorated OEF/OIF Combat Veteran, and leader of the most talented group of public affairs and community outreach professionals in VA.