Honoring Their Sacrifice: Welch Pays Tribute to Vietnam Veterans at VA, Slams NSA
U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., walks through an honor guard comprised of Vietnam veterans Sunday at the White River Junction VA. Welch, who was visiting the hospital for a ceremony honoring the veterans, also shared his thoughts on the NSA. (Medora Hebert photograph)
Veterans surround the hall at the Hearts of Valor ceremony as U.S. Rep. Peter Welch and other guests honored Vets with handmade quilts Sunday. (Medora Hebert photograph)
White River Junction — U.S. Rep. Peter Welch said on Sunday that he was “outraged” by last week’s revelation that the National Security Agency had secretly collected information from data centers operated by Google and Yahoo.
“This is a rogue organization,” Welch, D-Vt., said of the NSA while standing in the lobby of the White River Junction VA. “It’s long overdue for review.”
The latest information came from Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who has revealed internal documents to major world news organizations and has since been granted asylum in Russia.
Welch said that the issue with Snowden — namely, whether to bring him back to the U.S. with immunity to testify in a case involving the NSA — is “separate” from the NSA’s practices.
“The documents speak for themselves,” Welch said, also mentioning that the NSA has reportedly been spying on the leaders of countries allied with the U.S. “I’d be interested in hearing how (NSA officials) justify the foreign policy damage.”
Welch made these comments following a “Hearts of Valor” ceremony at the VA, held to honor Vietnam veterans around Vermont for their service in the war, which killed more than 58,000 total U.S. servicemen. Welch was the keynote speaker at the event. It follows a similar “Courage of Valor” ceremony held on Sept. 8, during which World War II veterans were gifted quilts.
In his speech to the Vietnam veterans, Welch contrasted the dysfunction of the federal government with Vermonters’ commitment to each other, specifically among veterans.
“Wouldn’t it be good if all of America had that same commitment?” he asked.
Three dozen veterans were honored at the ceremony, which was an extension of the Quilts of Valor program.
All received quilts crafted by volunteers around the country, as well as a certificate from the VA.
“It’s an honor,” said Peter Lavery, of Burlington, one of the veterans recognized Sunday. It was the first ceremony he had been to that commemorated Vietnam veterans in this way. “It’s just joyful.”
Besides the 36 veterans honored, about 100 friends and family members attended the event, filling the room nearly to capacity. Members of Patriot Guard Riders, Combat Vets of America and Rolling Thunder stood holding large flags on either side of the room. At times, members handed their flags to colleagues so they could collect their quilt and certificate.
Many of the speakers said that a ceremony like Sunday’s is a way to right a wrong that occurred more than 40 years ago, when those who fought in Vietnam returned home.
“We did not give our veterans the welcome home they deserved at that time,” said Deborah Amdur, the director of the VA, reading from a prepared statement by U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.
John Tracy, the state office chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who is a Vietnam veteran and whose son is on active duty, had similar thoughts.
But he also said the negative reaction of the time turned out to be educational, as people have since learned not to blame a soldier for the war he or she took part in.
“As a nation, we learned a lot from the Vietnam War,” he said.
Robert Dawson was one of the first few veterans to receive his quilt and certificate on Sunday. He walked to the podium, picked up his gifts, and shook hands down the line of VA and government officials.
Then, before exiting stage right, he turned around to face the crowd. He gave them a thumbs-up.
“Welcome home, brothers,” he said.
Jon Wolper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3242.