Vietnam War 50th anniversary commemorated by President Obama
(ABC7/AP) - Memorial Day in 2012 bore extra meaning for those who served and fought during the Vietnam War, as this year commemorates the 50th anniversary of America's first involvement in the conflict.
And, for the first time on Monday, Vietnam veteran Raul Barerra brought his family to the place that cuts so deep - the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall - and that reminds him of decades of missing two childhood friends.
"Maybe, someday, we'll walk the streets in heaven together, like we did back home," he said.
For the first time in a long time, a president visited the memorial on the day commemorating those who served and lost their lives, as President Barack Obama took time to remember and speak to those who served.
"You were sometimes blamed for the misdeeds of a few," Obama said. "You came home and were sometimes denigrated when you should have been celebrated. It was a national shame, a disgrace that should have never happened."
This year's Memorial Day marked the beginning of a 13-year project to commemorate and remember American involvement in Vietnam. Speaking at the memorial, Obama said of the veterans of that war served with "just as much patriotism and honor as any before you."
"When you came home, I know many of you put your medals away," he said. "You didn't talk too much about your service. As a consequence, the nation didn't always appreciate the chapter that came next." He said that although many Americans turned their back on Vietnam veterans, "you never turned your back on America."
Obama also held a breakfast with Gold Star families who are still fighting to account for those who are still missing. The President told family members that the search for their loved ones remains a top priority.
"Leaving no one behind is not always possible, but at least you make your best effort to bring home as many as you can," Obama said.
However, Obama's presence meant problems for the very veterans he heralded. Security restrictions kept some people completely behind barricades, and some visitors had to lay wreaths across the street. Some people without special tickets couldn't even get in.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.