BOLIVAR, TN (WMC) - An annual celebration four years ago in the Mid-South has continued to grow each year.
March 28 is designated as National Vietnam Veterans Day and four years ago the city of Bolivar started the tradition of honoring Vietnam veterans. This year, however, they just held their celebration a couple weeks early.
Major General (ret) James Livingston, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, from the United States Marine Corps spent a couple days in Hardeman County visiting schools and talking to students and veterans.
Friday, March 3, he made appearances at two schools and was able to speak to middle school students about "raising the bar" and believing in themselves, having value and worth, and doing what is right. Livingston spoke at Middleton Middle School and Bolivar Middle School.
Livingston was accompanied to the schools by The Real Army Wives founder Andrea Lynne Cory, widow of LTC Rennie M. Cory Jr. who was killed in 2001 while on a mission to recover the remains of soldiers left behind in Vietnam.
On Saturday, Bolivar held a Vietnam Veterans parade before the kickoff of the celebration.
"We had our first parade last year for our Vietnam veterans," Bolivar Mayor Barrett Stevens said. "Our Vietnam veterans didn't get the welcome home parades and fanfare our veterans get today. They had to hide that they were a veteran. They did remarkable things for our country, yet they were disrespected and abused. This weekend was about putting them on a platform and saying we know the sacrifices they made and we appreciate them."
Livingston told WBBJ the celebration, parade, and festivities surrounding the weekend was just an example of the spirit of the city and the state.
"It's really indicative of all of America." Maj. General Livingston said. "Now they realize the service and sacrifice of all the veterans and this city has done a great job of extending that hand of welcome and saying we thank you for your service and sacrifice."
During Saturday's celebration, the program highlighted the sacrifices and service the Hmong provided to the United States during Vietnam. With some Hmong living in Hardeman County, they were invited to attend the celebration. Approximately 20 Hmong were recognized publicly for the vital role their people played in our country's war efforts.
Between 30,000-40,000 Hmong were killed fighting with the United States and working to save lives of downed American pilots, disrupting supply lines, and identifying possible targets for American forces.
Stevens said recognition of the Hmong is crucial because they became refugees in their own country because of their assistance to United States forces.
"They were refugees. They were hunted down and put in prison camps and killed after the war. They were labeled spies and traitors," Stevens said. "But they are the reason many of our service members, especially pilots, come back home alive to their families. These are the people you will see in town, at the Farmer's Market, at the local stores, but they're here in America because our government recruited them to help and they agreed. They paid the price for helping."
In addition to recognizing the Hmong, Andrea Lynne Cory spoke to the veterans and those in attendance about the mission her husband was on when he died, why it was important, and keeping the promise to leave no man behind.
Stevens said the city will continue honoring veterans and supporting the military.
"Bolivar is a city that loves our veterans, we love our military, and we love our country," Stevens said. "We'll continue doing what we have to in order to show our appreciation for those who wear this nation's uniform and have worn it."