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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Vet Center celebrates Vietnam Veterans Day by rehanging dog tags: ‘That brotherhood is everything’

Joe Dumlao had just returned home from the Gulf War, still dressed in his Air Force desert camouflage uniform, when he spotted a group of about eight men with long hair and beards, dressed in olive drab military fatigues, waving American flags and welcoming him home at the Kansas City International Airport.

“I didn’t do anything heroic. It kind of caught me off guard,” said Dumlao, a veteran outreach program specialist for the Veterans Administration and a retired Air Force veteran. “Seeing that and not knowing what I was looking at, it dawned on me that they were wearing the uniform my father wore. I didn’t realize they were Vietnam veterans keeping their promise that no one would be forgotten.”

Several dozen veterans, dressed in baseball caps, biker vests and a few in military fatigues, observed the annual Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day on Tuesday at the Spokane Vet Center in Spokane Valley.

Vietnam Veterans Day is typically observed on March 29. The observance recognizes the day the last combat troops were withdrawn from Vietnam in 1973. The day was first recognized in 1974. The Spokane Vet Center has observed the day every year since it was designated by Congress in 2017.

This year’s observance comes after someone burglarized several hundred dollars worth of property at the center last month, including dozens of dog tags that had been attached to a Vietnam veterans memorial. Soldiers from a nearby Army recruitment office provided a dog tag printer for veterans and their family members to create new tags to rehang on the memorial Tuesday. The new tags were reattached with stainless steel braiding that will keep them on the memorial more securely, said Dave Baird, the center director.

After a ceremony at 10 a.m., the veterans were treated to a barbecue behind the vet center, followed by a playing of “Taps,” a prayer from a Blackfeet tribal elder and a re-hanging of the dog tags on the memorial.

Vietnam War veteran and Combat Vet Rider Chaplain Richard Hemming describes his support for the men at the veterans center with a single word: “Brotherhood.”

“It doesn’t matter what branch of service you were in,” said Hemming, who served four tours in Vietnam in the Navy, in between drags of a Marlboro cigarette. “For those suffering from (post-traumatic stress disorder), the camaraderie associated with that brotherhood is everything.”

While the observance on Tuesday is dedicated to Vietnam War veterans, who largely made up its attendance, veterans of other wars were also present.

“I was in the Forgotten War,” said Jerry Bain, a 90-year-old Korean War veteran who began coming to the Spokane Vet Center about eight years ago.

“This is where I found my troops,” he said after the dog tags were rehung on the memorial. “It means a whole lot.”

The Spokane Vet Center provides a place for veterans to discuss their experiences and memories from wartime with people who have similar stories, Bain said. It helps keep veterans in good mental health, he said.

“Do what you can for a veteran every single day,” said retired Army Brig. Gen. Neal Sealock in a short speech to those at the center on Tuesday. “Reach out and touch the veterans you know who need help. Most of them will not ask you.”