NEWS | Nov. 15, 2016

General pays heartfelt tribute to veterans

By Leticia Hopkins U.S. Army Central

Brig. Gen. Viet X. Luong, U.S. Army Central chief of staff, gave an emotional speech before helping unveil a monument dedicated to the Army at a Veterans Day ceremony in Florence, S.C., Nov. 11.

“General Luong’s speech yesterday was so moving and so emotional,” said Barry Wingard, Florence Veterans Park Committee chairman. “People had tears in their eyes. It was really, really well done.”

Invited as a guest speaker, Luong spoke about service and sacrifice to a crowd of almost 600 people who gathered at Florence Veterans Park to honor and pay tribute to veterans, and watch the unveiling of the Army monument.

“Today is a special day,” said Luong. “It is a day that we honor all veterans for their service, so it is fitting that we are standing on the hallow grounds of the Florence Veterans Park in the shadows of the World War II Memorial to mark this year’s Veterans Day.”

For Wingard who is also a retired Army colonel, there were two comments that really resonated well with him. The first one was when Luong said his father replied: “It means nothing in this world can harm you now” in response to Luong’s question about what it meant for them to be aboard the USS Hancock after being airlifted from Vietnam in 1975 during the final days of the Vietnam War. The other part of Luong’s speech he felt stood out was when Luong said he was not born an American but chose to be an American.

Luong spoke to the crowd about the days leading up to him and his family leaving Vietnam and how at nine years old he decided one day he would serve in the military. He also told the crowd that for veterans, service and sacrifice go hand in hand, and in some cases require the ultimate sacrifice.

“The last 15 years of war have been nothing more than sacrifice and steel resolve for our military,” said Luong. “Since 9/11, more than 6,800 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines have made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Overcome with emotion, Luong tearfully recalled memories of Soldiers he had the honor to serve with and their actions leading up to them making the ultimate sacrifice - sacrifices in the form of limbs and even their willingness to risk their own lives in order to make sure no Soldier was left behind.

“You know, it’s really hard for me to retell these stories,” said Luong. “But I think it’s important that they be told. You will not see these stories often in the press or in the mainstream media, so I believe it is my duty to preserve these Soldiers’ legacy and honor their sacrifice and service.”

After the remarks, Luong and other distinguished guests unveiled the U.S. Army monument, the last monument in the series dedicated to the five branches of the military. While it was the fifth monument in the series, it was the eighth monument unveiled in the park since its opening eight years ago.

Wingard said Luong’s remarks were well received and even more remarkable because they tied in well with the “Alone with Memories” sculpture that was also unveiled during the ceremony. He added that several people called, emailed and stopped him to let him know General Luong gave one of the best speeches they’ve heard at the park’s Veterans Day ceremonies.

“It was something that touched a lot of people,” said Wingard, “and brought back memories for many and maybe shed light to some of the people there that had not experienced military life – what it can be like when a loved one is lost. It was particularly interesting because yesterday we dedicated a new sculpture which is dedicated to some people who have lost loved ones in service.”

The three other monuments unveiled during the ceremony were: a sculpture titled “Alone With Memories” in honor of people whose loved ones made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of the nation, the Wall of Honor to which more than 30 names were added, and the relocated World War I Monument.

“I really enjoyed the ceremony,” said Sgt. 1st Class Tianeka Croker, career counselor for 4th Battalion, Army Reserve Career Division. “General Luong has a very inspirational story that reminds me of the many reasons why my sisters and brothers in arms joined the military. I am very proud to serve with someone like him.”

As for the guest of honor, Wingard said choosing the well-received speaker was actually a suggestion from Luong’s former college friend, Regi Armstrong, who introduced the general before he gave his heartfelt patriotic speech.

At the end of his speech, Luong left attendees with this message: “My message to you is while this is a date that will forever serve as a solemn remembrance and tribute to our veterans, please also take time to honor the spirit of our nation and her ideals,” said Luong. “I think we have our issues and challenges, but we live in the best country in the world. And there’s simply no other place like it.”