KOPPERL - According to The Department of Veterans Affairs, nine million Americans served on active duty during the Vietnam War and approximately seven million of those Vietnam Veterans are still living today.

Of those seven million, many have memories of the ones that never made it home.

Lawrence Akard served in the Navy and did two tours in Vietnam. He was in charge of a ship that patrolled Mekong River, and, over the course of his two tours, he lost 18 men.

Those loses still affect him today.

“I wonder to this day why...” said Akard as he trailed off, “Why it wasn’t me instead of them.”

Vietnam was a tough experience for Akard and he still suffers from PTSD nearly 40 years after his last tour of duty. The toll that it takes is not just difficult on him, but on his family, as well.

“They’re going through what I’m going through only they weren’t there,” he said.

Akard credits his wife for helping him through the nights when things get overwhelming - even more so on the nights when he’s plagued by sleepwalking.

“I love her to death, because she brings me back home,” he added “When I’m in a PTSD state, I’m not home. I’m back in Vietnam.” he explained.

The sacrifices and traumas incurred by the men and women who served our country are reasons why they are honored in the U.S. every chance possible.

In 2008, the National Defense Authorization Act authorized the Secretary of Defense to conduct a program to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. The program partners with communities to coordinate activities and events that commemorate the Vietnam War.

The five objectives of the program are to thank and honor veterans of the Vietnam War, highlight the service of the Armed Forces during the war, pay tribute to the contributions made on the home front during the war, highlight the advances in technology, science and medicine related to military research, and recognize the contributions and sacrifices made by allies of the U.S during wartime.

The commemoration began on Memorial Day 2012 and will end on Veterans Day 2025.

On Friday, Feb. 12, Kopperl ISD held its third annual Valentines for Veterans event to honor veterans and their families.

Kopperl ISD kindergarten teacher, Martha West organized the event after finding out about the “50th Commemoration of the Vietnam War” in a magazine. She presented the school principal with the idea of becoming a commemorative partner of the effort and in 2012 Kopperl ISD officially became a partner. According to West, Kopperl ISD is possibly the only school district in the nation to be an official partner for the “50th Commemoration of the Vietnam War.”

During the event, everyone in attendance got to hear from local artist and Vietnam Vet, Doug Prine about his experience in combat.

Prine was a combat artist and captured the images on the battlefield. Even though he was an artist, Prine was also active duty and trained with infantry. During battle, Prine was injured three times. He said it was mostly from shrapnel, but the injuries were “just enough to make you appreciate life.”

The other veterans present didn’t get a chance to share their stories of combat, but they were honored nonetheless to be there.

“When I came back in ‘67, I was spit on,” retired Staff Sgt. Henry Kasper said. “And now to be honored [this way] makes me proud.”

While the civilians thanked and honored the veterans for their service, Kasper said that the servicemen always like to thank the civilians for their support too.