Three Texas Veterans received the COVID-19 vaccine – and something else, something 50 years in the making.

The South Texas Veterans Health Care System Home & Community Based Care (HCBC) team covers thousands of miles of South Texas roads ensuring even the most rural Veterans are given the opportunity to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

For HCBC nurses Sandra Greer and Laura Alexander, their March 26 visits were a bit different. They visited three Vietnam Veterans and not only provided them with their second dose of vaccine, they honored their Vietnam service with the official 50th Commemoration of the Vietnam War lapel pin and a thank you card from the medical center staff.

Greer said these kinds of interactions are a big part of positive health outcomes.

The 50th Commemoration was signed into law in 2008 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act and inaugurated by President Barack Obama in 2012. Its purpose is to thank these Vietnam Veterans for their service and sacrifice and is celebrated annually on March 29.

Purple Heart for severe wounds in Da Nang

The team’s first stop was Bennie Buentello, an Army Veteran (pictured above) who was severely wounded in Da Nang and awarded the Purple Heart for his injuries. He and his family are a regular stop for Greer, who has provided his home health for more than a decade.

“When I see a person over the long term, it gets interesting for them because they see a person that takes a big interest in their health,” Greer said.

Army Veteran Pedro Lopez remembers shots from Army days.

Upon entering Buentello’s house, the shared bond became apparent. Buentello immediately broke into a smile seeing her – a smile that was altered by a recent stroke, a complication from the head wound he received in Vietnam.

Buentello’s room looks like a military museum. Photos, a Vietnam Veteran hat and his two Purple Heart medals displayed proudly near his bed.

Greer delivered the vaccine with Buentello showing how he was going to work the arm to reduce the soreness. Then the real purpose for the visit came.

Tears remembering unit members who did not return

“We would like to honor you today,” Greer said. Buentello was taken aback. “This is for your service and from your country and all of us, we thank you,” she continued.

She then presented the thank you card which dredged up some emotions for the 1st Cavalry soldier.

Getting a bit teary-eyed, he fixated on the thank you card. Buentello wiped the tears away and muttered, “Old memories,” referring to fellow unit members that did not return.

He reassured everyone, telling them they were happy tears. He saluted her smartly and the team was on to their next patient.

Nurse Alexander was vaccinating Pedro Lopez, an Army Veteran not nervous about vaccinations. “I remember back in my Army days, anytime something was going around, they would line us all up and give us a shot,” Lopez said with a chuckle.

Lopez was sent to Germany instead of Vietnam during the war. One of nine brothers, he said six of them served their country, two in Vietnam. HIs spouse was glad he served and is eligible for VA care.

Alexander removed the pin from its box.

“This is to appreciate you and the work you did in the service,” Alexander said, pinning it right above the “USA” embroidered on his shirt. She also thanked Lopez’s spouse and said she was also part of the process during his service.

Army Veteran Gregorio Garcia receives his 50th Commemoration of the Vietnam War lapel pin.

The team’s last commemoration stop was at the home of Army Veteran Gregorio Garcia. Garcia was in good spirits, having a bit of fun with Alexander. Gregorio’s wife Carmen asked if the vaccination hurt and Gregorio affirmed it to the surprise of Alexander. He grinned and gave her a head shake and a boisterous laugh.

Lost his mother to COVID-19

Carmen showed a family photo and pointed out his mother. “She passed away from COVID in February,” Carmen said. “The vaccine has a personal significance.”

Besides getting his second vaccine, Alexander told Garcia that the visit had another purpose. “This will make this day very special for you. Because of what you did in service, this is to say thank you,” she said.

He was then presented with the thank you card. His wife remarked how proud she was of him. Gregorio read out the bottom line, “Welcome Home,” which had him fighting back emotions.

Alexander noted his speech progress after suffering from several strokes and heart attacks the past year. He clutched the card, refusing to set it down. Carmen added that it was the first time his Vietnam service was recognized.

With an elbow bump from Gregorio, Alexander packed up her gear and went on to the next patient.


Steven Goetsch is a public affairs specialist with the South Texas VA in San Antonio, Texas.

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13 Comments

  1. Jose R Rodriguez April 21, 2021 at 11:08 pm

    I also am a Vietnam Veteran and I will like to know why if the Government Agencies, specially VA have all the information needed about our Military Service on record how come we are not able to receive this 50th anniversary Viet Nam commemorative pin ? What about keeping each of us informed on benefits and services and help at a time like this
    when all our information is known to them by the Internet where even our conversations and likes and dislikes are known?

    Please make an effort to honor us too ! Joe F Guerra brought this point to your attention and I wish something is done about it!

    • Stephen E Lawrence April 25, 2021 at 7:43 pm

      I am a viet nam veteran (72-76) US NAVY and would like to know where to get my 50 Th pin also.
      Agent Orange claims are still being filed too, can anybody send me where to get my pin?
      S E LAWRENCE

  2. Patrick Campbell April 21, 2021 at 10:11 pm

    How do I receive the the Vietnam War Lapel pin?

  3. Ronald J Willis April 21, 2021 at 7:52 pm

    I served in Vietnam in 69.How can I get a commemorative pin?

  4. Ronald J Willis April 21, 2021 at 7:44 pm

    How can I receive a 50 year Viet name commemorative pin?

  5. keath rhymer April 21, 2021 at 6:33 pm

    whee in Indianapolis may i pick one up i cant find any place

  6. Joseph Piszker April 21, 2021 at 6:10 pm

    I spent a tour in Nam in 1968, was there during the tet offence. I was with the 9th infinity division. When I got back and landed in New Jersey terminal I was spit on and called baby killer. I could not get my uniform off fast enough and get the HELL out of their and back home. Landing in Pittsburgh where my wife and father in law was waiting for me and drove me back home to Indiana and Punxsy.
    I have been through a lot since then and I will be turning 75 this October.
    I have gotten both shots for the vaccine.

  7. Joe F Guerra April 15, 2021 at 3:57 am

    Is this 50th anniversary Viet Nam commemorative pin available to those living in other areas of the country and not just south Texas where these visits occured?

  8. Michael Molamphy April 15, 2021 at 1:17 am

    I salute my fellow veterans. Some of us enlisted, some conscripted, including I for the Vietnam war. We served with courage and diligence, unlike con man and traitor Trump, despicable draft dodger.

    • John Byrne April 28, 2021 at 12:30 pm

      Thanks for playing the Trump card. Even though it has nothing to do with the article. The article is about a thank you pin. You should get one and you can have mine too. The fact that President Trump did not serve during that ridiculous time has nothing to do with with the article. Are you as upset with the other millions that somehow got around serving in a made up war.

      We who did serve did not accomplish anything. Nothing. 60,000 lives lost and countless lives affected for no reason at all. The war was not won. It was a made up confrontation. If we had never been involved in Vietnam the outcome would have been the same.

      If you think Biden is a better choice than Trump…. wake up!

  9. Dave Vonallmen April 14, 2021 at 8:21 pm

    didn’t give a sht then still don’t give a sht now. Even our own brothers and sisters don’t give a sht, unless you were “in” “Nam” you really aren’t a real vet. I’ve lived with that for the last 50 years and I’m really tired of it. I went where I was sent and spent 13 months in Korea and came back and was spit on and called names and was hated by everyone here, whatever keep your thankyous I don’t want them.

  10. James Maxwell April 11, 2021 at 2:02 pm

    I am a Viet Nam Era Vet who can say that it is about time that my Brothers and Sisters that served their country are being recognized for their service and devotion to each other and their country.
    SP/4 Maxwell

  11. Jim Bennett April 11, 2021 at 11:10 am

    Welcome home to all fellow Nam vets,,,too little too late for many of us…but better late than never.American’s should regret not doing this 50 years ago when we could have used some help.

Comments are closed.

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