Obama Recalls Vietnam Vets' Treatment as 'National Shame'

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks about the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War during a Memorial Day event a the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Image Credit:  Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

In his second address this Memorial Day, President Obama paid specific tribute to those perished during the Vietnam War on the 50th anniversary of its beginning. He recalled the sacrifice of the troops who served there and the unjust blame that was heaped on them upon their return.

"It was a national shame, a disgrace that should have never happened. That's why here today we resolve that it will not happen again," Obama told vets and their families gathered at the Vietnam War Memorial on the national mall. "You were often blamed for a war you didn't start when you should have been commended for serving your country with valor."

The 50th anniversary, Obama argued, is another chance to set the record straight and "tell your story as it should have been told all along."

See Images from the Vietnam War

"That's one more way we keep perfecting our union, setting the record straight. And it starts today. Because history will honor your service," Obama said. "And even though some Americans turned their back on you, you never turned your back on America."

And the President also said America mustn't forget about the 1,666 troops who are still missing from the Vietnam war nor the POW's who returned home.

"Let it be said in those hell holes like Briarpatch and The Zoo and the Hanoi Hilton, our Vietnam POW's didn't simply endure, you wrote some of the most extraordinary stories of bravery and integrity in the annals of military history," he said, referring to infamous prison camps set up by the North Vietnamese.

Obama admitted that there was still debate over when the actual war began. While the U.S. had advisers there in the mid-1950's and major combat operations began in the mid-1960's, he told the story of one defining moment-one used as the peg for calling this the 50th anniversary.

"It was 1962. It was January in Saigon. Our Army pilots strapped on their helmets and boarded their helicopters. They lifted off, raced over treetops carrying South Vietnamese troops. It was a single raid against an enemy stronghold just a few miles into the jungle. But it was one of America's first major operations in that far away land."

In all 58,282 were killed in Vietnam. Their names are etched in the black granite wall that served as Obama's back drop today.

"It's here we feel the depth of your sacrifice," Obama said. "We come to this wall - to this sacred place - to remember. We can step towards its granite wall and reach out, touch a name. Today is Memorial Day, when we recall all those who gave everything in the darkness of war so we could stand here in the glory of spring."