The United States Vietnam War Commemoration is calling on all Vietnam War veterans and their families to head to the National Mall May 11-13 for a “welcome home” event featuring performances, speakers and a chance to connect with veterans service organizations.

The event will be the organization’s biggest yet, and a warm-up for the 50th anniversary, acting director Army Maj. Ed Chrystal told reporters Tuesday. Congress created the United States Vietnam War Commemoration back in 2008, with a mandate increase outreach and hold events to honor Vietnam veterans and their families through 2025, when the U.S. will mark 50 years since the end of the war.

“The Vietnam War Commemoration estimates approximately 7 million Vietnam veterans are currently living within the United States and abroad, and through our estimations, we have reached about 3.7 million of those veterans,” Chrystal said. “So we have two years and we’ve got about three and a half million veterans to go.”

In this year’s event, starting May 11, the organization will set up “Camp Legacy” along West Potomac Park in Washington, D.C., with static helicopter displays and more than 40 exhibit tents featuring museum displays, veterans advocates and allied country participants like South Korea and Australia.

Daily events will include a jump by the U.S. Army Parachute Team, the Golden Knights, speakers, panel discussions, concerts, high school bands and local junior ROTC drill teams.

The VA will also have their mobile veterans assistance unit on site to help connect any participants to services, Chrystal said.

Chrystal, a career National Guardsman and Iraq War veteran, said he hopes the event helps continue to change the culture around how Americans treat veterans.

“Now, we treat our veterans very well. But 50 years ago, we weren’t so good at that,” he said. “And we definitely owe it to our Vietnam veterans and their families, who were he even looked down upon at the time.”

He believes Vietnam veterans themselves started that change.

“The Vietnam veterans could have turned their backs on all of society,” he said. “But what they did was when ... the soldiers and sailors, airmen, Marines that worked for us got on planes from foreign countries fighting wars, the first person in line to shake their hand and welcome to back was the Vietnam veteran.”

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.

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