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Luncheon recognizes Vietnam veterans

Mar. 30—ASHLAND — Duty, honor, country" is a rallying point for many Vietnam veterans.

Dozens of men and women who served in the armed forces were honored Saturday afternoon at a veterans luncheon at the Ashland Transportation Center bringing a "beautiful" ceremony of recognition for those who haven't didn't receive their due when they returned home from war.

Denver Prater, 76, a Vietnam veteran, recalled a memory in the VA hospital two weeks ago. He said a woman came and changed his batteries to his heart monitor when he was asked where he served.

"I said 'Vietnam.' She said, 'I want to apologize to you for the way we treated you all when you came back.' It's such a shock to me, but such a blessing, because I thank her, this is great; we feel this, we are here in this," Prater said.

"Nobody wanted to be there, nobody felt like a hero," he said. "They were not the monsters people made them out to be. There was love, there was compassion. Nobody understood why we were there. We didn't understand our mission, we didn't know how it could be accomplished or if we were accomplishing it."

Prater was drafted at 20 years old to fight in Vietnam.

"I didn't think I should have been exempted and I didn't try to do that," Prater said. "When I was there, I did the best job I could. There were people having a real tough time. I tried to be a friend, counselor or whatever I could.

"I was a licensed minister when I went into the Army," he added. "I prayed hard and said, 'This is not where I am supposed to be, I was supposed to be pastoring churches and it's as if God said I am putting you here for a purpose. I look back and realize, that was the purpose."

Prater witnessed a turnaround of how people viewed Vietnam veterans when the Gulf War began.

"Patriotism came back in and people began to appreciate the American soldier and it trickled down to us. Now there are people everywhere saying 'I appreciate you,'" he said.

"It makes me feel great. I wouldn't wear a uniform or tell anybody that I was in the military. I served another 24 months when I came back from Vietnam. I never wore my uniform except when on base. I didn't want anybody to know," Prater added.

He said the love of his life played a key role in keeping him motivated.

"She wrote letters every day to me and I wrote back to her. Two weeks after being home, we got married. We started a happy life together."

Cheryl Spriggs, Ashland commissioner and Regent Poage Chapter of The Daughters of the American Revolution member, said patriotism is in her DNA.

"It's so important that we recognize that we have so many heroes living among us," Spriggs said. "They are there and have done great things through their country and when the country called, they showed up and they were there.

"We are walking among heroes," she added. "We will never know what they went through but I can tell you this, every ounce of freedom I have comes from somebody in the military."

Spriggs expressed how proud she was to live in a state and area that is strong in patriotism, she said.

"We are so proud that Kentucky has a huge patriotic group of people," she said. "We have a very strong sense of patriotism here.

"They feel that in their heart and can see it on their face that we have accomplished our goal of making them feel recognized and how we appreciate them so much, because they didn't feel that before,."

(606) 326-2657 — ajohnson@dailyindependent.com