An audeince of Vietnam vets, their families and those who love and honor them, gathered Saturday morning at the Armory for the county's marking of the newly instituted National Vietnam War Veterans Day.

Scheduled for March 29, the event was held Saturday due to the Easter holiday.

Following the presentation of colors by the Junior ROTC group out of Port St. Joe, the ceremony opened with a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, the singing of the National Anthem by Carol Barfield, and an invocation by Charles Scott, chaplain of Willoughby Marshall American Legion Post 106.

The post's commander, Charles Wilson emceed the ceremony, welcoming the veterans from across the county, and Tallahassee, who were in attendance. He then introduced the daughter of Major John Haynes, the keynote speaker, who introduced her dad.

Haynes, 88, served 30 years in the U.S. Marines during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. His military decorations include the Silver Star, the Purple Heart, and the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal and the Cross of Gallantry. Following his active duty, Haynes served as state commandant of the Maryland Marine Corps League, and is chairman emeritus of Florida Veterans Foundation. As chair, Haynes was responsible in the establishment of the Capitol Courtyard Brick Memorial, which has raised over $180,000 for veterans in need for housing and utilities, while at that same time honoring Florida Medal of Honor recipients and all Florida veterans.

After reading the proclamation by President Obama that created the holiday, and noting Gov. Scott had issued a similiar proclamation, Haynes got right to his point.

"Welcome home!" he shouted, and the audience joiend in.

He said there were close to a half-million Vietnam vets living in Florida, noting that 58,000 soldiers died in that war, with another 54,000 killed in the Korean War and about 400,000 in World War II.

"Please do not allow our loss of life to have been in vain," he said. "Resolve to to bring a sense of respect, dignity and duty to our country."

In addition to honoring the flag and its colors, Haynes read the Veterans' Creed, and told those who gathered "You were born under the flag of this great country. You proudly served your country under this flag, and when we pass on, we will be buried under this flag.

"No cause is more noble than for a man or woman to give their life in defense of our country," he said. "Today should be a national day of mourning. In my eyes this should be considered a day of mourning.

"What is the signifcance of losing your life in battle if there's no remembrance? What good is it if we don't remeber these brave men and women?" he asked.

Haynes said Vietnam vets wrote a blank check to their country made out to the U.S. gvernment, for the sum of their life.

"It's important that our friends and neighbors know that," he said. "And when we the living fulfill our commitments as memebrs of their communities, America is a living memorial to their dedication."

Haynes noted that fewer than half the eligible veterans in America are signed up with the Veterans Adminstration, and he enouraged those who aren't to learn about the benefits extended to veterans and their families.

After Drew Robinson sand "Proud to Be An American," there was a bell ringing for all those who died in Vietnam, their names read by past Legion Post Commander Larry Hale. Wilson was moved to tears.

"I grew up with a lot of these boys. I went to school with them. They were my friends," he said. "I was one of the lucky ones."

Following the singing of "God Bless America," led by Barfield, an inviation was made to all those who served in the armed forces from 1955 to 1975 to come forward and receive a special pin in honor of their Vietnam-era service.

A silent auction was then held for a 24-inch by 24-inch oil painting by Larry Boecker, showing a hand gently passing over the names on the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C. Boecker served as a medic during the war. The frame on the painting was made out of redwood and cypress by Gary Patton.

After a fierce back-and-forth, Harry Arnold won the auction with a bid of $1,100, and then graciously donated the painting back to the Legion post to be displayed.

Following the blessing of the food, guests enjoyed a low country boil. thanks to the sponsorship of the event by Sign De-Sign, Kristia Spencer, the Piggly Wiggly in Port St. Joe, the Apalachicola IGA, Buddy Ward and Sons Seafood, Amison Seafood, Nadine Lee and sons, Rusty Crum Seafood, Water Street Seafood, Ted Mosteller and several anonymous donors.