During the Vietnam War, when Ed Liebzeit was in the Air Force, he was spit on as he walked through an airport.
It was something that happened to more than one member of the armed forces during the contentious, unhappy war years. It was so common, along with bad feelings in general, that many servicemen, Liebzeit included, didn’t wear their uniforms in public in their own country.
But on Monday Liebzeit was in uniform, the uniform he was issued five decades ago, leading Veterans Day ceremonies in Town Square. The uniform fit, both in size and in mood at the gathering to honor veterans and note 100 years since the end of World War I. Nov. 11 became Veterans Day in 1954, a renaming of the Armistice Day that had been celebrated before. Liebzeit said he wanted a photo of himself in his old uniform to give to a newly born grandchild, William.
It’s been a long time. Recalling the spitting incident, Liebzeit said, “We don’t want to go back to that. ... It wasn’t the fault of the people who served.”
Former Navy submariner Neil Ford said that after meeting students at a high school assembly last week he came away with the same feeling about support for the armed forces among the public, especially young people.
“There’s been a surge in embracing our veterans” in recent years, he said. “You see a resurgence in young people appreciating the military ... many now have known people who have served, and that hits home.”
Like Liebzeit, Ford was wearing his uniform. He said it was the first time he’d worn it since he retired in 1994 after 20 years of service.
About 100 vets and family and supporters gathered for the ceremony, fewer than in recent years. Organizers from Post 43 of the American Legion attributed the turnout to holding the event on a 15-degree Monday morning the day after the official day. But those on hand weren’t deterred.
Dennis Broz, a Navy air traffic controller from 1958 to 1962, said the day “means a lot to the people who care enough to pay attention.”
Broz had 300 little U.S. flags to hand out, a practice he’s enjoyed for the past 11 years.
Jackson Councilman Don Frank, the town’s official representative for the observance, saluted those who have served, noting “the sacrifices of our veterans, who have secured our precious freedoms.”
Liebzeit, who rose to captain as navigator of a C-130 transport during two Vietnam tours, said going into the service was a contribution “above and beyond what you do with the rest of your life ... it’s God, country, loyalty ... it was the honorable thing to do.”
In prepared remarks Liebzeit said, “A veteran — whether active duty, discharged, retired or reserve — is someone who, upon joining the military, wrote a blank check made payable to the United States of America to uphold and defend our Constitution for an amount ‘up to and including my life.’”
Gerry Dolph was there Monday with his wife, Susan. Their son has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Dolph is a Vietnam vet who did his duty in the 9th Infantry Division. He said turning out for the event was a show of love.
“It’s patriotic, a way to support our veterans,” Dolph said. “We’re always here. ... We fly the flag every day.”