FORKS — Nearly 100 Vietnam War Era veterans were honored during a pinning ceremony in Forks.
It was an honor Shele Kinkead said her late husband had deserved for many years.
Kinkead was all smiles Wednesday evening as she accepted the pin from U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer for her husband Roger Kinkead, who served as a weatherman in the United States Coast Guard for four years during the Vietnam War. Kinkead died of a heart attack Aug. 24, 2009.
Though the two weren’t together when Roger Kinkead served, Shele Kinkead recalled him telling her of how he and other people in the military were treated.
“When he was stationed for a short time in Florida, he remembered signs of ‘dogs and servicemen stay off the grass,’ ” Kinkead said. “It was very hurtful for him to serve during that time because there was no recognition. This pin means an awful lot to me as his wife.”
She said her husband was proud to have served his country and that’s why it was important for her to accept the pin in his honor.
“I think he would have been proud that finally the nation was doing something about rectifying and recognizing the number of men and women who served,” she said. “I thank Derek Kilmer and his staff for putting this together and coming all the way out to Forks. For a lot of people Forks is a long ways away, so it means a lot that he came to us.”
The pin Kinkead accepted was one of 93 pins that Kilmer handed out to Vietnam War Era veterans on Wednesday at Peninsula College.
Clallam County Commissioners Bill Peach and Randy Johnson, as well as Forks Mayor Tim Fletcher, joined Kilmer in thanking veterans.
The pins are presented to anyone who served in active duty any time between Nov. 1, 1955 and May 15, 1975.
The pinning program was established by the Secretary of Defense after it received a 2007 directive from Congress to establish an official commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.
Kilmer is one of 10,000 commemorative partners nationwide who have volunteered to host veteran pinning events.
The Gig Harbor Democrat represents the 6th Congressional District, which includes the North Olympic Peninsula.
Each veteran who attended was recognized individually.
Their names and the branch of service they served in were called out as they received their pins.
“Today [Kilmer] gets to do something that each of you who served in Vietnam were owed when you returned from your service and are finally getting in person: our extreme gratitude and thanks,” Fletcher said while introducing Kilmer. “Today, your elected congressman is helping all of us say thank you for your service, your dedication and then your continued dedication still to this great nation.”
Kilmer said 2.7 million Americans served during the Vietnam War and that when they returned home they were not met with the gratitude they deserved.
“Events like this today are just an effort to try to correct that,” Kilmer said. “Personally, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for your service; thank you for your sacrifice for your country; thank you to your families.”
Kilmer said that saying “thank you” matters, but that the federal government needs to support its veterans.
“I fundamentally believe if you serve your country we ought to have your back and that means in the land of the free and the home of the brave, every brave service member should have a home and it shouldn’t be under a freeway overpass or out in a park,” Kilmer said. “If you fought for your country you shouldn’t have to fight for a job when you come home. It means you should get the benefits you’ve earned.”
Kilmer urged anyone who is having any challenges in dealing with the federal department to reach out to his staff.
Veterans can contact Veteran and Active Duty Caseworker Rob Richards by calling Kilmer’s Tacoma office at (253) 272-3515 or emailing [email protected].
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected] dailynews.com.