By Mike DeSumma
They were American heroes who served in one of the nation's most questionable conflicts.
In all, the Vietnam War claimed close to 900 lives from South Carolina. Public ridicule would also await many more who would make it back home. Saturday, decades later, time was taken to thank these brave men and women for their service.
Hundreds packed the First Baptist Church in Columbia Saturday for two big reasons: One, to let these vets know the sacrifices they've made won't be forgotten. And two, to lend support in the battles they're still fighting.
"I was in the Marine corps," Tommy Harris said. "So I volunteered and went in."
One particular day he may never forget.
"We came under fire one night after we had set up for the night," he said. "First rocket went over my position and three Marines was killed and to this day I consider myself very lucky."
Luck in some ways did run out for Harris. Shrapnel wounds to both of his legs now forces him to walk with a cane. He said those injuries weren't the only thing that would hurt.
When he arrived back home, "I got spit on," he said. "I got eggs thrown at me. Callin' us baby killers and things like that."
Harris's story is one shared by many.
"You served on the battlefield," Gen. James Livingston addressed the veterans. "You had to return home and confront issues here. In this great country we call America but you did it in style."
Vietnam vets from across the Midlands were honored at the ceremony. The nearly 900 soldiers, Marines and airmen from South Carolina who died in the conflict were remembered.
Troops in attendance marveled at the show of support.
"They're getting treated a lot better now," veteran George Roberts said.
George and his brothers, Donald and William all served in the Navy during Vietnam.
"He and I were over there about the same time," William said.
It's that same support that they try to bring to those Americans serving now.
"We're brothers," William said. "I don't care what war it is. Where they come from. What branch they're in. We're brothers and that's as simple as that."
In some ways the fight for many Vietnam era vets still continues. Some are among the more than 551,000 cases of U.S. military veterans still waiting to collect benefits for pension and healthcare.
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) used the event as a call for action. His office organized the event.
"You ought to have the best healthcare in the world," Scott told them. "You deserve the best care."
Harris is one vet hoping promises like those can be fulfilled.
"Marines continue on," he said."We don't go back. We continue to move forward."
Hopefully now they'll move on with the support of their country behind them.
Harris says like many veterans, he's still waiting to collect some benefits from the V-A.
He says the department has recently told him he doesn't qualify for certain ones.