One Vietnam veteran has finally received his long-deserved welcome.
The Wesley Chapel Noon Rotary Land O’ Lakes Satellite Club recognized George Voorhes on June 23 as its first recipient of the Vietnam War 50th Anniversary Commemorative Lapel Pin.
Voorhes, 82, retired from the army in 1974, following 20 years of service.
He served in the Korean War and had three tours of duty in Vietnam, earning a Bronze Star.
A Missouri native, who now lives in Land O’ Lakes, Voorhes joined the military when he was 17.
Eventually, he rose to the rank of Sergeant First Class E7.
Along the way, he worked as a banker, chef and nightclub manager.
During his last 10 years of service, he was a general’s aide.
Despite the decades that have passed, details of war remain vivid in Voorhes’ mind.
Most notably is the passing of his brother-in-law, who succumbed to Agent Orange.
“I miss him,” Voorhes said, holding back tears.
“He was only a brother-in-law, but he was more like a brother to me,” he said.
The first U.S. combat troops were sent to Vietnam in 1965.
More than 9 million Americans served during the Vietnam War, representing 10 percent of their generation.
They marked the oldest and best-educated force that America ever sent into harm’s way.
The last remaining troops were withdrawn in 1973.
Though 97 percent would be honorably discharged, 58,307 service members died in the war, and more than 1,600 are still considered missing in action.
Upon their return to America, Vietnam troops often were greeted with silence — or worse — for having served in the controversial war.
Unlike soldiers returning from World War I and World War II, there were no ticker tape parades or triumphant marches for veterans returning from Vietnam.
Despite painful memories and personal losses, though, Voorhes remains proud of his service.
“It’s an honor to serve my country,” he said, “and I’d do it again, if I had to.”
The Rotary Club’s commemorative ceremony and breakfast was held at the Copperstone Executive Suites in Land O’ Lakes.
Voorhes received the Vietnam War 50th Anniversary Commemorative Lapel Pin from Chief George McDonald, of the Pasco Sheriff’s Office. McDonald is a retired U.S. Army Special Forces Colonel.
Throughout the hour-long event, Voorhes was lavished with applause, warm greetings and countless thank-you’s from dozens of Rotarians and their guests.
Voorhes also received a dedication message and certificate form the staff of U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis.
The congressman, who represents Florida’s 12th District and is vice chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, even had an American flag flown over the United States Capitol to honor Voorhes’ service.
In a letter to Voorhes, Bilirakis wrote, “There are no words that can adequately express the gratitude, admiration and respect that your military service during the Korean and Vietnam Wars has earned.”
The congressman also noted that members of the Armed Forces “who served bravely” during the Vietnam War “were caught in the crossfire of public debate regarding our nation’s involvement and did not receive the warm welcome that you all deserved.”
The Vietnam War Commemoration is a government-led initiative, engaging 10,000 event partners, ranging from the Boy Scouts of America to the NFL.
In 2012, President Barack Obama signed a proclamation creating the Vietnam War Commemoration. Obama called on communities across the country to come together and hold events between then and Veteran’s Day 2025 to recognize the 7 million living Vietnam veterans.
To date, the commemoration has reached more than 1.4 million Vietnam veterans and their family members.
Voorhes was chosen as the Rotary Club’s first recipient after his wife of 57 years, Jean Voorhes, reached out to the service organization, inquiring about the program.
The satellite Rotary Club had just recently become an official commemoration partner, through the United States Department of Defense.
That application process took about a year, said Sandy Graves, a member of the satellite club who helped coordinate the ceremony for Voorhes.
“The club’s worked very hard to become a commemorative partner with the government and do these ceremonies for Vietnam vets that kind of didn’t get that when they came home,” Graves said.
Moving forward, the Wesley Chapel Noon Rotary Land O’ Lakes Satellite Club plans to organize two Vietnam Commemoration ceremonies each year.
Graves said the satellite club will likely host a dinner ceremony sometime this fall, to honor multiple Rotarians that served in Vietnam.
“It’s a wonderful thing,” Graves said of the Vietnam commemoration program. “My father served in the military, I have many friends that served in the military and every night I would just implore everyone to, when you do lay down to go to sleep, think about how come you’re able to do that, and be very thankful for those that made (freedom) possible for us.”
Vietnam War (1954-1975)
U.S. Troop Statistics:
8,744,000 – Total number of U.S. Troops that served worldwide during Vietnam
3,403,000 served in Southeast Asia
2,594,000 served in South Vietnam
The total of American servicemen listed as POW/MIA at the end of the war was 2,646.
58,307- Total U.S. Deaths (Average age of 23.1 years old)
1.3 million – Total military deaths for all countries involved
1 million – Total civilian deaths
–Figures compiled by the U.S. Department of Defense
Published July 5, 2017