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Cookout will honor Vietnam veterans — VFW Post 2618 invites all Vietnam vets and families for food, commemoration

He calls it, “society correcting itself.”

Only in the last decade or so has America seen a renewed interest in scholarship of the Vietnam War, with a string of popular books and documentaries seeking to find the truth of the conflict beyond official histories and media reports. Understanding of the war has increased, too, and now Vietnam veterans — in their 60s and 70s — are taking their rightful places in parades, honor guards and community events.

“Society as a whole has realized regardless of whether you agree with the war or not, the warriors deserve your respect,” said Ken Powell, senior vice commander of Brookhaven’s VFW Post 2618. “We want those Vietnam veterans to know they’re welcome, and we honor their service to just as high a degree as that of any serviceman or woman.”

To make them feel welcome, the VFW on Saturday is hosting a Vietnam Veterans Commemoration Family Cookout for any veterans of the war who served in the combat theater of operations at any point during the conflict. The event is the VFW’s way of following President Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential proclamation making the 13 years between then and Nov. 11, 2025, an ongoing commemoration of the war’s 50th anniversary.

“I am a Gulf War veteran, and I came home to parades and all sorts of pomp and circumstance — but the Vietnam vets didn’t get that when they came home 50 years ago,” said post commander Greg Marlow. “This event is to welcome them home.”

Admission to the cookout is free, and local Vietnam vets are asked to bring a copy of their Form DD214 or other proof of service during the war. The cookout will begin at 11 a.m. outside the VFW post on Industrial Park Road — tents and fans will be set up to fight the summer heat — and will be followed by a presentation indoors around 1 p.m.

Lee Perry, a former state commander and himself a Vietnam vet, will be the keynote speaker, and all Vietnam vets will be presented with “A Time to Honor,” a hardback commemorative book featuring Mississippi-specific stories from the war.

The event will be informal and family-friendly, and Vietnam vets are encouraged to bring their extended families for hot dogs, hamburgers and fellowship. Reservations are needed by Thursday and can be made by calling 601-757-6722 or 601-730-8281.

Marlow said there are many Vietnam veterans in the Lincoln County area who are not members of the VFW or any other service organization, and he hopes they will stop by Saturday and introduce themselves.

“We need them involved,” he said. “The VFW is in business to take care of veterans, all veterans. The VFW is the key voice in Congress for our benefits, and if we don’t get our membership up, we’re gonna lose that voice.”

VFW membership nationwide has fallen to 1.2 million. The average age is 67, and more than one-third of the membership is more than 80 years old.

“Where are we gonna be in 10 years?” he asked.

Marlow said the VFW is planning another commemorative event next month for the older veterans of the Korean War. July will mark the 65th anniversary of the 1953 armistice that ended the conflict.