It was a day of honor in South Boston for those who have sacrificed to defend and protect the United States during the 2017 Veterans Day Parade and Celebration held downtown and at Constitution Square on Saturday.

Veterans of the Vietnam War, including personnel who were held as prisoners of war (POW) or listed as missing in action (MIA) received a special thank you, and 20 men in attendance received a Vietnam veteran lapel pin.

These men served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces, regardless of location, during the period of Nov. 1, 1955 to May 15, 1975.

Retired U.S. Army Col. Sam Lowery presented the pins along with help from Bobby Shepherd of the American Legion after Lowery shared a few words with the crowd gathered at Constitution Square.

It wasn’t long ago that the retired colonial was working active duty and as a reservist with the Army’s National Guard Intelligence Center.

The recent retiree said it “was a great privilege and honor to serve in the world’s most elite and best trained army.

“The greatest thing though, is to be called upon to salute and to honor fellow veterans at this event,” he added.

Looking out into the large crowd at Constitution Square, Lowery said the veterans attending represented a wide variety of experiences from the Cold War to guerilla warfare.

“Veterans are all those who have served their nation whether in peace or in war. Their contributions have enabled us to become stronger and improve as a nation. Veterans have worked in the far north under the Arctic Ocean in submarines, in scientific stations at the end of the world in the Antarctic, dominating the skies in every direction, performing duties on every continent, and even in the vast reaches of outer space beyond the atmosphere,” said Lowery.

“These are the men and women who at some point in their lives have dedicated themselves to the morals, integrity and principles that make the U.S. Fighting Forces stand out above all others. Their selfless service and sacrifice provided us with security and confidence that tomorrow we would remain as safe as we were today. Their strength and resilience maintained our liberties and freedoms. They have gone above and beyond their call to duty even when it was not asked of them.”

He said it was only fitting that the crowd also be filled with family, friends, community members, neighbors and fellow workers because “their appreciation means everything.”

The colonel said veterans appear in many forms from “the 93-year-old great-grandfather to the young enlisted solider just returning from his first tour of duty.”

He encouraged the crowd to thank them at every chance and to never forget their sacrifices.

Turning his speech to the Vietnam War, he said 9 million Americans served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces during that period, and 7 million are still living today.

“Many service members from that era were never properly or formally thanked for their contributions and service to their nation,” said Lowery.

Therefore, the National Defense Authorization Act authorized a program to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War to give these men proper gratitude.

Lowery pinned 20 Vietnam War veterans Saturday.

Prior to Lowery’s speech, the crowd heard from Zak Ford who directed his words to the younger ones in the crowd.

He said he wanted to issue a challenge to the young people in the crowd, because without veterans no one would have the luxuries citizens enjoy today.

“You wouldn’t be able to go to school, you wouldn’t be able to go to a place of worship, and you wouldn’t have iPhones,” said Ford.

Veterans, he said, paid their dues in full. They left their families and all that they knew as they stepped out of their comfort zones into war, he added.

Ford said many people treat Veterans Day as just another day, but he asked the crowd to instead “hug a veteran, thank them from the bottom of your heart and find how what they’re going through now and do something for them.

“Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart,” Ford said to the veterans attending.

Members of American Legion Post 8 rendered a 21-gun salute and Taps, and Ken Vaiden provided patriotic music.

Leading up to the celebration at Constitution Square, dozens lined Main Street for a Veterans Day parade filled with floats, antique cars, military vehicles and more.

Ashley Hodge reports for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at ahodge@gazettevirginian.com

Ashley Hodge is a staff writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at ahodge@gazettevirginian.com