SHALIMAR —"God, I feel ... ."

The three words spoken by the Rev. Clint Akins, a local minister and Vietnam veteran, hung briefly in the Okaloosa County Commission chambers before, slowly, some of the more than three dozen Vietnam vets in the room answered his invitation to finish the sentence.

"Pain," said one voice.

"Loss," intoned another.

"Comfort," added one veteran.

"Proud," said yet another.

"Lord, will you ... ," Akins continued.

"Forgive me," responded one veteran.

"Stand by me," said another.

"Strengthen me," a third said.

Akins was the featured speaker for a Veterans Day event organized through the office of Okaloosa County Tax Collector Ben Anderson as part of the ongoing national observance of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. Akins centered his remarks on Psalms 13, which opens with the words, "How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?"

Noting the confused and sometimes angry reactions of the American public to the Vietnam War, Akins reminded his fellow veterans, "We never heard 'Thank you for your service.'" Instead, he said, many returning Vietnam veterans experienced "cold indifference or outright rage."

Then, after pausing for a beat, Akins added, "Thank you for your service."

Anderson, too, spoke Friday about American reaction to Vietnam.

"We in this community, how well we know the rigors of the Vietnam War," he told the room filled with veterans and a number of local officials. "Today, I think we see a greater understanding of the role of our military."

American involvement in Vietnam began in 1955 and ended in 1975. In 2008, federal legislation called for a commemoration of the war and its veterans. A subsequent presidential proclamation set the observance for the 13 years between Memorial Day 2012 and Veterans Day 2025.

At Friday's ceremony, each veteran received a copy of a proclamation signed last year by President Donald Trump calling upon Americans "to offer each of our Vietnam veterans and their families a thank you on behalf of the nation ... ."

The veterans also were presented with a pin commemorating the 50th anniversary of the war. The state of Florida is a partner in the national observance, and recently sent commemorative pins to local governments for distribution.

The pins and proclamations were presented to the veterans by two of their fellow Vietnam veterans — retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Bruce L. Fister, whose career included service as a transport aircraft pilot in Vietnam and retired Air Force Col. Howard J. Hill, who spent more than five years as a POW after being shot down in 1967.

After receiving his pin and proclamation Friday, veteran Rick Taylor, who flew helicopters in Vietnam, said he had "mixed emotions" about the ceremony. But, he added, "It's an honor to be part of it."

Charles Bowles, an Army veteran, briefly referenced the time it has taken many Americans to appreciate those who served in Vietnam.

"I guess the American people had some reason to delay," he said, before adding that he was honored to be at the ceremony.

George Engler, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam in 1967-68, spent a moment Friday remembering the Choctaw High School classmates lost in the war.

"I think there were two or three of them," he said. And, he added, because he lived in a military community, he didn't experience the rejection that other veterans did when they returned home.

"Since I'm from here, the transition to the civilian world was a lot easier," he said.