Story and photos by Darl DeVault, contributing editor
Two of Oklahoma’s most esteemed combat Veterans spoke about their service at a reception on Marines Corp Day, the night before they were honored as Parade Marshalls at the Midwest City Veterans Day Parade.
They were hosted by civic leaders and volunteers in welcoming home Vietnam Veterans in an often-somber reception planned by Midwest City Mayor and U.S. Coast Guard Veteran Matt Dukes.
More than 100 Vietnam combat Veterans gathered at the Reed Center in Midwest City saw several somber military traditions presented.
The men heard speeches by U.S. Air Force (Ret.) Colonel Chuck DeBellevue, 76, America’s top air ace of the Vietnam War, and U.S. Army (Ret.) Major Ed Pulido, whose vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb in Baqubah, Iraq in 2004. The two combat Veterans emphasized the attending Veterans’ sacrifice and service was vital to keeping America free.
Four Carl Albert High School Air Force Junior ROTC cadets presented the colors.
Two other cadets then performed the POW/MIA Missing Man Table & Honors Ceremony in a dignified and solemn manner. The National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia first conceived the poignant observance. The emphasis given to the empty chair sitting at a POW/MIA table by the two cadets brought home to the audience the plight of prisoners of war and missing in action soldiers even today.
Dukes emphasized in his opening remarks he was humbled to offer a belated welcome home to Vietnam Veterans from Midwest City, the city where patriotism lives and the spirit flies high.
Area resident U.S. Air Force (Ret.) Col. Bruce Ewing was moved by the honor to attend the event. “For me this was the ‘Welcome Home’ that we always wanted but never, till lately, got,” Ewing said. “Midwest City got it right…and I feel the combat Veterans in attendance could feel proud of their service a bit more openly than in years past. In short, it was a joy to be there.”
Ewing served in country as a captain 1970-71, as part of the Air Force Advisory Group advising the Republic of Vietnam Air Force at Tan Son Nhut Air Base near Saigon, present day Ho Chi Minh City. He was also TDY to Udorn Royal Thai AFB ,Thailand in 1971 when DeBellevue and Steve Richie got their fifth MiG kill making Ritchie the Air Force’s first Vietnam ace and moving Chuck on to his later status of leading ace in that war. He retired as a Colonel in 1990 after 27 years of service.
Local Veterans of Foreign War posts, American Legion and the South Vietnam Veterans Association were well represented at the more than 10 tables full of in country Vietnam Veterans.
DeBellevue, narrated his September 9,1972 mission two MiG kills. Those two kills added to his previous four air victories made him the top air ace of the Vietnam War in his F-4 Phantom II. He ended his detailed account of that mission by emphasizing how humble he was because so many fellow service members made every flight possible.
The Edmond resident expressed gratitude for those gathered with whom he shared the perils of war in Southeast Asia to ensure freedom for all Americans.
In honor of those U.S. Marines gathered, the 246th birthday of the Marine Corps ceremony was conducted that evening, also known as Marine Corps Day. Retired Marines Dave Willis and Donald Schmidt cut the symbolic birthday cake in traditional style with a ceremonial sword while Dukes narrated the history of the Corps and ceremony.
Pulido gave a more personal speech. The Edmond resident received the Bronze Star with Valor and the Purple Heart after his left leg was amputated. This ordeal is depicted in his book “Warrior for Freedom: Challenge, Triumph and Change, The Major Ed Pulido Story.”
Major Ed, as he is known for his nationwide impact on the Veteran services movement, spoke of his father’s cancer diagnosis in December. He expressed its connection to Agent Orange and how it has impacted his family.
His father, U.S. Army (Ret.) Chief Warrant Officer 4 Manuel J Pulido served in Vietnam and after as a Hughes helicopter crew chief as a Battalion Aviation Maintenance Officer. “My father is an immigrant from Colombia who took the sacred oath seriously to defend this great nation during and after the Vietnam war.” Major Ed said. “As a Vietnam-era Veteran who served with honor and distinction for more than 30 years, he taught us the importance of always making sure we understood the mistakes made in not properly honoring his comrades by an ungrateful nation will never again be made on our future war fighters. Because as he puts it, we will never leave anyone behind again on the field of battle and on the Homefront ever again. So, help him God.”
“On behalf of a grateful nation, thank you for your service,” Major Ed ended his speech. “Thank you for your sacrifice. We will never leave you behind on the field of battle and on the Homefront, so help us God.”