SUFFOLK, Va. (NNS) -- Surface Force Sailors visited with Vietnam Veterans during a command-sponsored breakfast March 2, to help commemorate the 50th anniversary of the war.
Commander, Naval Surface Force Atlantic (SURFLANT) and local businessman William Blair co-hosted the commemorative event at Bunny's Family Restaurant in Suffolk, Va. During the breakfast, Capt. Erik Ross, SURFLANT chief of staff, thanked the veterans and Sailors from several SURLFANT commands who gathered together for the morning meal. He also emphasized how much the Surface Navy appreciates the families, the veterans, their service and sacrifice.
"We have to preserve the heritage, and we have to preserve the importance of service across generations," said Ross. "What we do is about defending freedom around the world and defending the constitution."
Many of the Sailors in attendance represented SURFLANT ships named for decorated Vietnam veterans, including USS Laboon (DDG 58), USS Oscar Austin (DDG 79), USS Bataan (LHD 5) and USS James E. Williams (DDG 95). They took turns discussing the pride and heritage they embody for their namesake.
"Pfc. Oscar Austin gave his life for his brothers and sisters in arms during the Vietnam war," said Navy Counselor 1st Class (SW/FMF) Douglas A. Edmonston, who reported that the Marine Austin saved honored him at the ship's last change of command.
"We fly the Marine Corp. flag every time we pull in and out of port to show that we represent a United States Marine," said Edmonston.
As a commemorative partner, SURFLANT has committed to planning and conducting events geared to honor Vietnam-era War veterans and their families. On May 25, 2012, by presidential proclamation, the Federal Government partnered with local governments, private organizations, and communities to participate in the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War. This is a 13-year program designed to celebrate and give recognition to the Vietnam generation.
"This breakfast is really important to veterans and Sailors because, when you are in the military you absorb this lifestyle and this culture; it is something you can never let go," said Personnel Specialist 2nd Class (SW) Alex Martinez, stationed aboard Laboon. "If I make this a career, I will probably be in the same place they are, wanting to hear from the younger generation of military members."
Veterans have been meeting for breakfast at this Suffolk restaurant for more than two decades. This tradition started with a group of former World War II prisoners of war who would get together once a month for breakfast at Bunny's, a patriotic, family-owned restaurant. Inspired by their devoted patriotism, Blair, an Army veteran and regular customer at Bunny's, along with his wife, Sarah Blair, started anonymously picking up the tab. Although it started as a random act of kindness, a waitress eventually revealed to the group who was paying their breakfast bill.
"We just want to show our regard to the veterans who served; we owe them a lot. Especially those that served during a time of war," said William Blair. "It's just something that we like to do to give back to those who served."
Ross concluded the event by inviting everyone to attend the upcoming Surface Line Week event in May. He said that this year's theme will help commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War.
"It would be an honor for all of our veterans to attend," said Ross. "It would be another opportunity to recognize them for their 'Service, Valor, and Sacrifice, A grateful Navy thanks and honors our Vietnam War Veterans.'"
For more news from Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, visit www.navy.mil/local/surflant/.