Belinda Morrone was so moved by her first pinning ceremony, she quickly organized another.
The retired Air Force colonel first pinned Vietnam veterans at a ceremony in West Boylston, MA in March. The pinning ceremony was organized by The Brookfield Institute's Care for the Troops program and held after a Yoga Warriors class. Col (ret) Morrone is active in Yoga Warriors and knew many of the veterans. The pinning was part of the American Vietnam War Commemoration and the Brookfield Institute is a Commemorative Partner. The pinning ceremony requires an officer to present the pins and Col Morrone was more than happy to oblige. What she hadn't foreseen were the emotions.
"The significance was more than I could imagine. It was the first time these veterans were thanked and received the recognition that what they went through was a war, and their service was validated and not minimized. In general, as humans we need and want to be heard and understood. For military service members part of that means being acknowledged for experiences and sacrifices made,” said Col Morrone.
She was already planning on attending a military reunion in Tennessee and quickly talked the organizers into including a pinning ceremony for Vietnam veterans who would also be attending. The ceremony was held after dinner. She and Roger Lutz, a retired Air Force Chief Master Sergeant, both in service dress uniforms, pinned more than 50 veterans. "We pinned them, saluted, shook their hands and said welcome home." The importance of wearing the uniform and delivering a salute during the pinning ceremony also is an acknowledgement and validates that it is an official Department of Defense presentation.
An especially poignant moment was when Col Morrone presented Chief Lutz with his own pin. Chief Lutz was a combat medic during Vietnam and aeromedical evacuation technician and Col. Morrone was a flight nurse during the Gulf wars on through the ongoing post-911 Mideast conflicts. Both had worked together doing peacetime aeromedical evacuation, then had seen combat and cared for war casualties. "Veterans who serve in a war face life and death situations on a daily basis. Coming home and being told your service was not justified and what you did made no difference, really hurts."
“Everyone who serves in the military has a different experience,” said Col Morrone. "The Vietnam veterans, however, were never thanked or acknowledged for all their sacrifices. These pinning ceremonies are vital. We as a nation are saying, thank you, what you did is appreciated and valued. People did not die in vain, they were defending our country, just as sailors, soldiers, marines, airmen, and coast guard did in any prior wars."
Col Morrone remembers after the Tennessee ceremony, which was part of the Aeromedical Evacuation Association reunion, when a veteran came up to her two days after the pinning ceremony to thank her and tell her how powerful it had been for him. "Two days later and he was still processing it."