RICHMOND, Va. -- Before the ceremony began at the Virginia War Memorial, honoring the veterans of the Vietnam War, a man in a cap shook hands with Governor Glenn Youngkin.
In a crowd full of veterans who lived history, someone would later say Lt. Col. Jona McKee (Ret.) is living history.
Tuesday marked the Commonwealth’s celebration of National Vietnam Veterans Day.
On March 29, 1973, the final American troops left Vietnam after 20 years of war and controversy over the United States' involvement in the foreign conflict.
Virginia officials said Tuesday that the veterans who filled the Shrine of Memory deserve thanks and recognition for their sacrifice. More than 230,000 Virginians served in Vietnam.
“As the ones who wear the uniform today, the shoulders that we stand on are your shoulders,” Virginia Sec. of Veteran and Defense Affairs Craig Crenshaw said.
“To all the Vietnam veterans here today, I want to thank you. I want to make sure that you understand our nation and our Commonwealth honor you,” Governor Youngkin said. “Some of you came home to an America that had turned its back on you, and yet you never turned your back on America.”
I was honored to present Vietnam Veterans with a special pin today at the @VAWarMemorial. I hope you wear it proudly and know how thankful we are for your service. America is better for your sacrifice. Thank you for keeping us safe. 🇺🇸 #VietnamVeteransDay pic.twitter.com/qr3GqPKrrg— Governor Glenn Youngkin (@GovernorVA) March 29, 2022
During his speech, the Governor specifically addressed McKee’s story of service.
The 94-year-old Virginia State University graduate is one of 170,000 veterans who served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.
On a chilly morning, McKee said of the moment “cold on the outside, but warm on the inside.”
When asked about his service in all three wars, McKee said, "I loved the Army.”
He quickly turned his attention to the names on the wall at the War Memorial and the more than 1,300 Virginians killed in Vietnam.
“As I understand it, 58,000 [Americans] didn’t make it back. It was sort of a brutal war. But, I was just happy to be sitting there among all those brave men,” McKee said, referring to the dozens of veterans in attendance Tuesday.
Carrying that history of service is a feeling McKee said will never leave him.
“I like to think that we have a bond that can’t be broken. When we see each other, we see men of honor, men of courage, and men that wanted to serve this great country. And this is one of the greatest countries in the world,” McKee said.
Vietnam veterans were given a special pin to signify and recognize their service.