Good morning. I’m Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy. I’m honored and humbled to be in your presence. Thank you so much to the VFW for hosting us.
We’re here today because of a simple belief—the belief that it’s never too late to do the right thing. It’s never too late to say a heartfelt “thank you” to men and women who have earned it.
In a few moments, I’ll present the Vietnam veterans in attendance—or their family members—with a special pin to recognize your service and sacrifice.
I led a similar ceremony last year at another VFW post in Longwood. It was one of the most memorable and moving moments I’ve had as a Member of Congress.
Last year’s ceremony was held 17 years to the day after the 9/11 terrorist attack on our homeland. That attack led to U.S. service members being deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq and many other theaters where they were in harm’s way. Those post-9/11 veterans, like you and your fellow Vietnam vets, answered when our country called.
Today’s ceremony is also timely, because we’re holding it just a few days before Veterans’ Day, when our nation pauses to express its gratitude to all those who have worn our country’s uniform and served honorably.
Before I go any further, I want to pay my respects to those Vietnam veterans who are not with us because they did not live to see this day.
I’m talking about the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who lost their lives in Southeast Asia, in a strange land thousands of miles from home.
I’m also talking about those service members who survived the war, many with visible or invisible scars, but who passed away in the years that followed. Too many of these warriors left this earth without being sufficiently honored for their service—and that’s a shame.
Those of you who served in uniform may be thinking about your fallen friends right now. I know friendships formed in the military—especially friendships forged in the crucible of combat—are incredibly deep and intense and hard for civilians to fully grasp.
Those of you who are here on behalf of a family member who served our country are no doubt thinking about your loved one, and missing them terribly.
I know you carry the memories of those you lost in your hearts every day, but especially on days like this, when pride can mix with sadness.
So I join you in paying tribute to the Vietnam veterans who are not here with us today, but who will never be forgotten. Not by you, and not by the nation they served so well.
Before I present you with your pin, I would like to say few words about why this ceremony matters, both for our country and for me personally.
Here’s why ceremonies like this are important for our nation.
America has a tradition of expressing appreciation for the men and women who took up arms for this country in times of conflict.
We saw it clearly after World War II, when the heroes of Normandy Beach and Iwo Jima were welcomed home by a grateful nation.
We witnessed it again in the years since 9/11. By and large, those who served in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other conflict zones are shown respect and even reverence by the American public—which is exactly how it should be.
However, too often, the treatment of Vietnam veterans was not consistent with this tradition. In retrospect, it’s clear some members of the public who questioned the wisdom of America’s involvement in Vietnam did not properly distinguish between the war itself and the warriors who volunteered or were drafted to serve in it. As a result, too many of you and your fellow service members were treated in dishonorable ways you didn’t deserve.
This ceremony, belated though it may be, is designed as a corrective, an effort to make sure you know how much your service and sacrifice are appreciated. No politics. No debates about foreign policy. Just a simple expression of gratitude for men and women who put it all on the line when their country needed them.
Now I want to explain why this ceremony means so much to me personally.
As you know, I’m from that strange and distant land where so many of you served. I was born in Vietnam in 1978, several years after the war ended. A communist government had taken power, and it sought to punish or “re-educate” those who had worked alongside American and South Vietnamese forces during the war. My parents fell into that category.
When I was a baby, my mom and dad concluded that things had to change. They wanted me and my older brother to live in a place where we would be safe, where we would have freedom and dignity, and where we would have the opportunity for a better life—and they didn’t think any of that was possible in Vietnam.
So we fled Vietnam by boat in the dead of night. But our boat ran out of fuel in the middle of the South China Sea. We sent out an emergency call and were dangerously adrift.
Thanks to grace or good fortune, a U.S. Navy ship patrolling in the area received our distress signal and located our boat. The sailors onboard, all of them trained for combat, showed compassion for desperate strangers. They gave us the fuel, food and supplies we needed to safely reach a Malaysian refugee camp. From there, we would make the passage to the United States and become proud American citizens.
Now—decades later—I stand in front of you, the first Vietnamese-American woman elected to Congress.
The moment the U.S. Navy rescued my family was the moment that made the rest of my life possible. Although I was too young to realize it at the time, it was also my introduction to America’s uniquely wonderful combination of power and generosity, which is perhaps best embodied by the American military—a force for good in a dangerous and sometimes cruel world.
When I meet veterans, and especially Vietnam veterans like you, I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I felt it a few years ago when I had the privilege to travel to Vietnam with the late, great Senator John McCain and to tour the Hanoi Hilton where he showed such courage and character.
There are no simply no words I can say to thank you enough, and no actions I can take to fully repay the debt of gratitude I owe you. But I promise you I’ll never stop trying.
Now, on behalf of the country you served, and on behalf of that baby girl your comrades-in-arms rescued on the high seas many years ago, I am proud to present you with your lapel pin.
On the front of the pin is an eagle, representing your bravery, honor, and dedicated service. On the back is a simple message: “A grateful nation thanks and honors you.”
May God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America.