LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) - It's been 52 years since the beginning of the Vietnam War and on Saturday, VFW Post 3937 in Long Beach brought the honor and respect that had once been denied to those war heroes.
The Long Beach Senior Center Citizen Activity Center was filled with veterans, family and supporters. The VFW state commander read some sobering statistics.
"Nine hundred and ninety-seven soldiers were killed on their first day in Vietnam," he said. "One thousand, four hundred and forty-eight soldiers were killed on their last day in Vietnam."
It was he ultimate price for our country, but in the beginning, Vietnam veterans were scorned.
"When we came home from Vietnam, we were not very warmly greeted," Purchner said. "In fact, just the opposite."
Purchner is an Air Force retiree and a Vietnam Veteran.
"It's finally time that our nation honors our service in a proper manner and officially welcomes us home and that's what this program's all about," Purchner said.
The commemoration started in 2015 to honor the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the war.
"It's one of those things that we as Vietnam veterans feel like it's way overdue," Purchner added.
Bob Keech is a Navy veteran with two tours of Vietnam.
"It's just good to see the people turn out," Keech said. "They weren't there when we came home, but they're there now."
The respect comes more easily now.
"People thank me now," Keech said. "I've had a lot of people come up and thank me for my service, which they wouldn't do before."
Rodney Hewes, also a Navy veteran, agreed. But, he doesn't describe his reaction to the protests as angry.
"I was disappointed," Hewes said. "And I always felt like maybe a time would pass by and things would be a little bit different, and that has come about, I feel."
For retired Seabee William Stevens, the day is also a time to think about those currently on the front lines.
"The most important thing we need to look at also is the troops that are serving now are our relief," Stevens said. "We were the Vietnam era and now we have the troops that are in the Middle East. Hard to believe, but that started 25 years ago."
Added Purchner, "I want to tell people that the people that served - all the troops that served in Vietnam - were true patriots. And they are deserving of the recognition for their sacrifice for our country."