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Vietnam veterans honored, mark 50 years

U.S. Army veteran Rudy Acevedo Chicago salutes during Veterans Day ceremony Vietnam Veterans Memorial Saturday.  |  Andrew A.

U.S. Army veteran Rudy Acevedo, of Chicago, salutes during a Veterans Day ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Saturday. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 12, 2012 6:46AM

While serving his country decades ago as a Marine in Vietnam, James Blue was flown home to the United States to battle a life-threatening case of malaria and returned to face a country sharply divided over the war.

Back then there were no words of thanks for his service. But on Saturday he and other veterans heard words of appreciation at a city Veterans Day ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the start of the Vietnam War.

“Over 2.7 million people wore the uniform in Vietnam and served our country,” Retired Maj. Gen. James Jackson at the ceremony outside the Chicago’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial along the riverfront.

“They came from all walks of life across the country,” he said. “They served under some very difficult times, not only for themselves, but also for our country. . . . While their welcome home was not what it should be, during the 50th anniversary, we’re going to try to remedy that. . . . Vietnam veterans deserve our attention based on their honorable service. While . . . belated, they deserve a formal welcome home to this country and a thank you for what they’ve done.”

The event drew a couple of hundred people, including Thomas Johnson, a Marine and son of the late Chicago Fire Department Capt. Herbert Thomas Johnson, who was killed on Nov. 2 while battling a fire in Chicago.

“I came out today to honor the Vietnam veterans and everyone here that has served their country,” Johnson said.

Ald. James Balcer (11th) told Vietnam veterans that besides their service, they had many other reasons to be proud, including the role they’ve played in bringing attention to problems faced by many other veterans, among them homelessness, unemployment, post-traumatic stress disorder and Agent Orange-related illnesses.

At the ceremony, Jackson presented Mayor Rahm Emanuel with a commemorative Vietnam War flag, one of more than 15,000 that will be distributed in cities across the country.

“To all the veterans, regardless of what war, regardless of what generation or background, at a time when we need to bind our nation together and rebuild its foundations, the spirit and service of our veterans is essential to our country’s success,” Emanuel told the gathering.

Last week, Emanuel announced a program to provide $1,000-a-year scholarships to veterans who attend City Colleges and college credits for their military training.

At the ceremony, representatives from all branches of the service stood by as a wreath was placed at the memorial.

“I’m so elated that veterans are being respected like they are now and that the country as a whole is recognizing and thankful for the veterans doing what they did,” Blue said.

Ahead of Veteran’s Day on Monday, Jackson had this message for Americans, “Veterans Day is unique, and its something where everybody in this country ought to take some time and think about those who have served.”

Asked his views on the resignation of CIA Director David Petraeus over an extramarital affair, Jackson said: “It’s a personal tragedy for him and his family. You’ve got a guy who’s very good at what he does, and he’s not going to be able to do it anymore, which is too bad.”

As an Army general, Petraeus headed U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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