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NEWS | March 29, 2024

Vietnam War commemoration honors Indiana veterans

By Mark R. W. Orders-Woempner U.S. Army Financial Management Command

A simple message was delivered more than 50 years late, but it was resoundingly well-received by those who deserved to hear it. That message was, “welcome home.”

The U.S. Army Financial Management Command welcomed home 15 Indiana Vietnam War-era veterans during a Vietnam War commemoration ceremony at the Maj. Gen. Emmett J. Bean Federal Center in Indianapolis March 25. 

“We're here this morning to pay tribute to the brave souls who answered their nation's call in one of the most challenging chapters of our history, the Vietnam War,” said Brig. Gen. Paige M. Jennings, USAFMCOM commanding general. “To all our Vietnam veterans…your sacrifices, your courage, and your unwavering commitment to duty have left an indelible mark on our nation's conscience and our collective identity.” 

Stan Soderstrom, the civilian aide to the Secretary of the Army for Indiana, joined Jennings in presenting the veterans with their Vietnam veteran lapel pin and a special one-star note from the general.

The event was hosted as part of the national 50th anniversary Vietnam War commemoration decreed by President Barack Obama’s proclamation in 2012. In that proclamation, Obama instructed the nation to commemorate Vietnam War-era veterans from Memorial Day 2012 through Veterans Day 2025.

Those to be honored are the approximately 9 million Americans who served in the Vietnam War-era from Nov. 1, 1955, to May 15, 1975, regardless of the location of their service.

Five years after Obama’s proclamation, President Donald Trump signed one of his own and established Vietnam Veterans Day as March 29 of each year. 

“For many of you, the memories of Vietnam are etched in your hearts and minds, reminders of both the heroism and the heartache that define the human experience in times of conflict,” Jennings said to the Vietnam War-era veterans at the USAFMCOM commemoration. “Your service, whether on the battlefield, in support roles, or on the home front, helped shape the course of history and the destiny of our nation.”

The event’s keynote speaker, Richard Leirer served in the U.S. Army for a decade, including two combat tours in Vietnam with assault helicopter companies, and he agreed with the commanding general.

“I left Vietnam 52 years ago this year, so I’m a little over the 50-year mark there, but I was with the 101st [Airborne Division] in Vietnam, the 1st [Cavalry Division], and with the 1st Aviation Brigade,” recalled Leirer. 
“You persevered through some of the most brutal conditions ever faced by Americans in war,” he continued speaking to the veterans and their families assembled in the Mark Sullivan Memorial Auditorium. “We faced intense heat, and for personally for me, the coldest night of my life on a mountain outside of Dak To, and unending monsoon rains.” 

Over the course of an approximately 20-year conflict period, 2.7 million service members served in Vietnam and saw intense combat, horrendous scenes and approximately 58,000 of their brothers- and sisters-in-arms fall. 

According to the Defense Prisoner of War Mission in Action Accounting Agency, there were 2,641 service members who were considered missing in action in 1973, and there are 1,577 who remain missing to this day. 

In total, nearly 81,000 American service members remain missing after having served in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and other conflicts involving the U.S.

“That's 81,000 men and women who never came home and whose families still don't know their exact fate,” said Leirer. “There are 51 missing in action from the state of Indiana alone. 

“Way too many families don't know the fate of their loved ones,” he continued. “We pause to remember their sacrifice.”

“We recognize the families who stood by you, the friends who never returned, and the scars, both seen and unseen, that you carry with you,” added Jennings. 

And, while the results of the conflict didn’t turn out the way for which many had fought and sacrificed, Leirer reminded those at the commemoration to hold their head high for they served and fought with dignity, honor, bravery and success. 

“Many of us know some of the renowned battles of Vietnam such as La Drang Valley, Dak To, Tet of ‘68, Hamburger Hill, Huế; you know, some of us may have even served in some of those battles,” he said to the veterans assembled. “But it's too often forgotten that the United States military never lost a major battle in Vietnam. 

“We fought the Vietcong, and we fought the [North Vietnamese Army], who would run away and hide across the border, but we never lost a battle.” 

But, for Vietnam War-era veterans, their battlefields weren’t just in Southeast Asia and the surrounding seas, nor did they end when they left the area of conflict. 

For many of these Veterans, they came home to an American public that often took out their frustrations with the war and politicians on the service members themselves, many of whom were drafted and had no say in the matter. 

“We acknowledge the nation you served did not honor you, and those alongside you, as it should have done,” said Jennings in her letters to the veterans. “Please know the challenges you faced shaped a better future. Today, our service members are welcomed as patriots, and that came as a result of our nation learning from its mistakes.”

Leier said he and fellow Vietnam veterans can be proud of their service now and are glad that the nation has treated veterans of subsequent conflicts with greater dignity, respect and veterans’ services. 

He also encouraged his fellow Vietnam War-era veterans to take advantage of the services now offered by the Veterans Administration. 

“A lot of people don't [go to the VA to receive their benefits]; some are not aware of it, but a lot of them say, ‘you know, I'm doing okay, I don't need it, let it go to the guys who need it,’” Leirer explained. “Well, that's, that's not the case. You earned it, so go to the VA, and get your benefits.”

He also implored the Vietnam veterans to take part in one of many Honor Flights available to help them visit the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., where the names of the 58,000 lost in Vietnam are forever etched in black granite. 

In Leirer’s final request of his fellow veterans of all eras, he asked them to seek help if they are experiencing issues with mental health and ideas of self-harm. 

“I lost a good Vietnam veteran friend last year to suicide, which you know, it's killed me,” he recalled. “I had no idea he was feeling like that, and he was a good close friend.” 

In 2022, the federally mandated crisis number, 988, became available to all landline and cell phone users. In its first year, 988 received approximately 5 million contacts with nearly 1 million from veterans. 

Leirer said one of his missions is to make sure veterans know about that resource, so they aren’t lost like his friend.  

Still, the numbers of Vietnam veterans still alive is less and less each day. According to the DoD, less than 850,000 are estimated to be alive today, and the average age of the youngest Vietnam veterans is 60 years old.

“So, we're going to be like the World War two veterans soon,” said Leirer, which is why he said events like USAFMCOM’s are so important now. 

“[We must] not only remember the sacrifices made, but let us also reaffirm our commitment to never forget the lessons learned,” added Jennings. “Let us strive for understanding, healing, and reconciliation, and let us honor the fallen by building a future worthy of their sacrifice.”

“Your service will never be forgotten, and your legacy will endure for generations to come,” she concluded. “Welcome home.” 


Below is a list of those honored during USAFMCOM’s Vietnam War commemoration. Their service histories are based on information they or their families provided. 

U.S. Army Spc. 4 John Anderson served in the U.S. Army from 1966-1968. He started his service as a scout driver and later served as a light vehicle driver in Germany. After his Army service, Anderson worked as an accountant with VA, Internal Revenue Service, Air Force and Defense Finance and Accounting Service. He retired from DFAS in 2013. 

U.S. Army Spc. 4 Lyle Kenneth Stoddard served one tour in Vietnam as a transportation specialist with Company B, 170th Transportation Battalion, 11th Air Assault Division. Stoddard passed away last year, but his son-in-law, Ralph Carie, who works at DFAS, received a pin in his honor. 

U.S. Army Spc. 5 Darrell Jutte graduated from the University of Dayton in 1969 and enlisted in the U.S. Army. Jutte was stationed at Fort Moore, formerly Fort Benning, Georgia, and served as a finance Soldier. During this time, he pursued his master’s degree and graduated in 1973 from Georgia State, just shortly after leaving Army service. 

Retired U.S. Army Sgt. Terry Hiett enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1975 as a mortar gunner. In 1978, Hiett reenlisted and switched to finance in 1979. He served numerous assignments, both stateside and overseas, and he retired from the Army in 1995. In 2005, Hiett joined the ranks of DFAS and transferred to USAFMCOM in 2020 with the transfer of the Army Military Pay Offices. 

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Richard Leirer served in the U.S. Army for a decade, including two combat tours in Vietnam with assault helicopter companies. Additionally, Leirer served tours in Germany and Korea, along with multiple locations in the continental United States. After his Army Service, Leirer began a career working as a computer engineer. 

Retired U.S. Army Mater Sgt. Robert Cansler enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1961. Cansler served as a flight engineer on the Army’s newly minted AC-1 and CV-2 Caribou. He served two tours in Vietnam. From 1964-1965, he served in theater as a flight engineer, and from 1971-1972, he served in theater as an aircraft maintenance NCO. He eventually transferred to the Army’s Finance Corps as an accountant. 

Retired U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Samuel McKoy enlisted in December 1969 as a field artillery cannoneer. Due to administrative classes McKoy took in high school, he was assigned special duty as a personnel specialist and ended up as a finance clerk in the 82nd Airborne Division. McKoy served in finance through 1966, when he took care of an infantry company as part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade on his first tour in Vietnam. After that tour, McKoy switched to special forces and served a second tour in Vietnam with the 5th Special Forces Group from 1967-1968. He stayed withing the Special Forces community until 1973 and then served as an Army club manager for seven years until he was picked up for the U.S. Army Sergeant Major Academy in 1980. He graduated as Class 15, and retired October 1994.  

Retired U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Jimmey Whisner served more than 42 years in the U.S. Army. In 1962, Whisner enlisted at the age of 17 and went to training in 1963 to be an artillery ballistic meteorologist. He then worked on meteorology equipment and Q4 radar systems, as well as serving as a platoon sergeant. In 1981, Chief Whisner became a warrant officer as a topographic engineer. Additionally, he served as a targeting warrant, maintenance warrant, field artillery intelligence officer, and information operations officer. Chief Whisner served on active duty from 1964-1966; in the National Guard from 1966-1971 and then again from 1990-2004; and in the Army Reserve from 1971-1990. 

U.S. Army 1st Lt. Duane Ramer enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1971 and graduated from Officer Candidate School that same year. Ramer commissioned as an armor officer and was stationed at Fort Knox, where he worked in the training command there. Ramer completed his honorable service in 1973 after 3 years. 

U.S. Army Capt. Phillip Zook graduated from Indiana University and commissioned through the IU ROTC program as an infantry officer in 1969. From 1969-1970, Zook served with distinction in Vietnam with the 1st Cavalry Division as a platoon leader. During this tour, he was wounded and medically evacuated back to the United States. He then served with the 7th Special Forces Group from 1970-1973. After his service, Zook used the G.I. Bill to attend graduate school, and he retired from the U.S. Postal Service in 2002.  

Retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Michael Dolan served in the U.S. Air Force from 1971-1995. Dolan first commissioned as a missile control officer working on Minuteman III missiles. He then transferred to be a services officer, where he retired as a major. Before his retirement, Dolan served in Operation Desert Storm. After his military career, he worked in automobile sales and at a major healthcare organization. 

Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) Richard Storm enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1966 as a communications maintenance specialist. He then attended Officer Candidate School in 1967 and flight school in 1968. After flight school, Storm flew CH-47 Chinook helicopters with the 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam from 1969-1970, during which time he was awarded two Distinguished Flying Crosses and 28 Air Medals. After his service in Vietnam, Storm transferred back to field artillery in 1970, since aviation was not its own branch, yet. Shortly after, the Army sent him to medical school on health profession scholarship. He attended IU and became a dermatologist. He retired from the Army in 1992 with 15 years of active service and 7 years in the Army Reserve. Storm later retired from dermatology in 2020.  

Retired U.S. Army Col. James Taylor commissioned as an artillery officer in 1961, and he served in that role until 1965. Later, Taylor would go on to serve as an operations and plans mobilization officer; and as a military liaison officer for U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He served from 1961-1963 in the Active Component and from 1963-1988 in the National Guard and Army Reserve. After Army life, he built a career as a high school teacher, from which he is now retired.

Retired U.S. Army Col. Roger Peterman served more than 33 years in the U.S. Army. He commissioned as a field artillery officer, and he commanded two artillery batteries, and artillery battalion and an artillery division. He remains highly active in the Association of the U.S. Army. 

Retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Donald Canaday enlisted in the U.S. Army infantry in 1954 and then became a drill sergeant after only four months. Shortly thereafter, he attended Officer Candidate School where he commissioned in the artillery. From there, Canaday would go on to command two artillery batteries. He then went to Seward Air Force Base, Tennessee, coordinating C-130 air support to the Army. He served in Vietnam from 1964-1965 as a senior advisor of a South Vietnamese infantry battalion. From 1971-1973, he served as a troop commander at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, and from 1974-1975 commander of President Gerald Ford’s amnesty program of Vietnam deserters at Camp Atterbury, Indiana. There, he processed more than 7,000 deserters ensuring they left the service with no criminal record. In total, he served in the Army more than 28 years.