Fort Meade observed the Army’s 241st birthday with reflections on the Vietnam War.
In his speech, retired Col. Bert Rice spoke about his two tours in Vietnam and how the anti-war sentiment affected those who served.
“This chance today and the chance I’ve had in recent years of getting up and to just talk about my experiences, deep down for me has been helpful,” said Rice, who retired as Fort Meade’s former director of transformation on May 31.
The 90-minute birthday breakfast, held Tuesday morning at Club Meade, was hosted by the Francis Scott Key chapter of the Association of the United States Army.
Retired Sgt. Maj. Jim Gilbert, president of the chapter, greeted the audience of service members and civilians.
“This is a special day,” he said.
The Defense Information School Color Guard posted and retired the colors. Master Sgt. Laura Lesche of the U.S. Army Field Band sang the national anthem. Garrison Chaplain (Col.) Warren Kirby gave the invocation.
Following tradition, Fort Meade’s oldest Soldier, retired Lt. Col. Alfred Shehab, 96, and Pfc. Daniel Perales, 19, of the U.S. Signal School Detachment and the youngest Soldier at the gathering, joined Garrison Commander Col. Brian P. Foley in cutting the Army birthday cake.
After wishing the Army a “happy birthday,” Foley commented on the diversity of the military force at Fort Meade.
“When I look out into the crowd, I’m reminded of what a wonderful and diverse community that Team Meade really is,” he said.
Foley noted Rice’s decades of military and federal service as a decorated helicopter pilot in Vietnam, an elected official for Anne Arundel County and a public servant at Fort Meade.
Rice, who served in Vietnam from 1965 to 1966 and 1967 to 1969, shared how painful it was for veterans to return home to a nation that seemed ungrateful.
“For many, it was difficult to accept this unusual treatment given the pride that we always had in our country,” he said.
Rice emotionally recounted stories about the bravery and commitment of his war buddies and how sharing memories of the war is cathartic.
“I’m very proud of my service to the nation and during the Vietnam War,” he said. “We were in Vietnam for the right reason — to control the spread of communism. … Our nation is now providing much better support to our service members and their families as they should do.”
After his speech, Gilbert presented Rice with a paper weight engraved with the words: “Once a Soldier, Always a Soldier.”
Upon accepting the gift, Rice said: “To my dying day, I’m a Soldier. Hooah!”