SPARKS — This year’s annual Vietnam Veteran Remembrance Day at the Nevada Veterans Memorial Plaza reflected on both the past when millions of men and women fought in Vietnam to the present when communities in every state continue to recognize those who served their country in Southeast Asia a half-century ago.
The tolling bell of “Let Freedom Ring” on Saturday also emphasizes the need for veterans from all wars to support one another.
“You may wonder why we are here today,” said J.R. Stafford, president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Sierra Nevada Chapter 989. “We are in the final stages of a tribute to our Vietnam veterans which began on Memorial Day 2012, and it will end on Veterans Day 2025.”
The 50th anniversary of the last American troops leaving Saigon occurred on April 30, 1975.
Stafford said veterans who served before and after the Vietnam War hold a special bond as do the newest veterans.
“Today also recognizes before us the young veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns who sacrifice and served their country,’ Stafford said, re-emphasizing the Vietnam Veterans of America’s founding principal of “Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.”
In addition to recognizing the veterans, Stafford said it’s important to honor the Gold Star families and their loss of a loved one during war.
Co-host Kristopher Dahir, a Sparks councilman and director of the Nevada Veterans Memorial Plaza, also welcomed visitors, noting the Vietnam Veterans Remembrance Day was the first official event held at the plaza. The plaza, which opened in November, includes benches, plaques and statues, educational information, a meeting area for veteran organizations and more than a thousand commemorative bricks.
Dahir emphasized the words he feels apply to veterans of any age: courage, sacrifice, honor and sacrifice.
“I want them to know that today for the years to come, welcome home, and we’re excited to have you here,” Dahir said. “This is what this is all about.”
Dahir described the community as the engine to pull veterans together to share their stories and comraderies.
“Silos never works,” Dahir said, referring to veterans who choose isolation from others.
As Dahir thanked the veterans and their families for their years of sacrifice and service, he referred to those who never wore a military uniform.
“Citizens like me never had the honor of serving. We all stand for truth and freedom,” Dahir said.
The Sparks councilman said the plaza is designed to bring honor, awareness and education to those who visit and want to know more. He encourages residents to bring visitors to the plaza so they may also learn about Nevada’s fallen.
The afternoon was also filled with patriotic pageantry. Kimberly Ahrens Dixon sung both the national anthem and “God Bless America” while Scott and Karolyn Hooper, both retired Army colonels, presented the colors as part of their Horsemanship for Heroes. The couple served on a combined seven combat and two peacekeeper tours and received three Legions of Merit awards and five Bronze Stars.
Before the afternoon’s featured speaker, Lt. Gov. Stavros Anthony, delivered his remarks on behalf of Gov. Joe Lombardo and himself, Stafford explained the meaning of the wreath placement by the Patriot Guard Riders, whose motto is “Standing for those who stood for us.” An individual accompanied wreath: Vietnam War — Cpl. William Drummond, U.S. Marine Corps veteran; All Veterans — the lieutenant governor; and Gold Star Families – Sgt. Stephen Ward, a fourth-generation U.S. Marine Corps veteran whose 19-year-old son, Erik, also a Marine, was killed in Afghanistan in 2010.
Anthony, who’s serving his first term, focused his comments on the day’s theme.
“Let freedom ring,” he said. “You’ll find it in the Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence and our Pledge of Allegiance. We have to fight to keep our freedoms.”
Additionally, Anthony said Americans also find the word in political discourse and politics, but he emphasized veterans must fight for freedom on the battlefield. The lieutenant governor said gatherings occurring in other states also appreciate the sacrifices of veterans and their families. Not only did he focus his remarks on the Vietnam War, but he also singled out the veterans who have served since then in Afghanistan and Iraq, which began 20 years ago in March with the bombing of Baghdad.
U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto spoke as did Sparks Mayor Ed Lawson.
“We honor the men and women who serve in this country and especially those who put their lies on the line during the Vietnam War,” Cortez Masto said.
Cortez Masto, who captured a second term in November, presented certificates to both Dahir and Stafford for organizing the event at the NVMP. She said it’s important for everyone to work together to know all about veterans, their service, family members and Gold Star families.
“Commemorations like this are so important,” she said.
Lawson said Dahir and Ron Smith, the late Sparks mayor, were instrumental in starting this “dream.” After Smith died, Lawson said Dahir ensured the plaza was constructed for both residents and visitors.
Army 1st Lt. Andy LePeilbet, a member of VVA 989 and leader of this year’s United Veterans Legislative Counsel, is one Nevada’s most highly decorated Vietnam veterans. He served in Vietnam during the late 1960s as a 22-year-old officer.
LePeilbet’s military awards include the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Air Medal and Department of the Army Commendation medal. His unit also received the Cross of Gallantry with Palm award, the Presidential Unit Citation with one Oak Leaf Custer, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Palm and the Civil Action Honor Medal. In December 2019, LePeilbet was recognized as the state’s Veteran of the Month.
LePeilbet gave a quick census on the number of veterans who currently live in Nevada. He said based on the 2020 U.S. Census, 8.9% of the state’s population are veterans.
“Nevada is the seventh most populated state as a percentage of vets to the total citizenry,” LePeilbet pointed out.
Based on the census, LePeilbet said the number of veterans and their families comes in at 16% of the total population. He said that makes a good-sized group of people who have some relationship with veterans.
LePeilbet told a story about the Vietnam veterans and their love for country. LePeilbet said not one soldier he knew revealed they had an American flag tucked in their uniform or equipment.
“We all carried an American flag,” LePeilbet explained. “It’s because we all fought under this. It’s all about serving our county.”