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Nevada Guardsmen enthralled by POW’s harrowing tales from Vietnam

RENO -- Nevada Guardsmen listened in rapt attention to retired Col. Thomas Kirk's anecdotes from Vietnam on July 30 during the 4th annual Patriots' Luncheon, an annual event held in conjunction with the Reno Tahoe Golf Open. Kirk's speech highlighted the event hosted by the Montreux Golf and Country Club that served to salute the service of America's military personnel, both past and present.

Kirk said he tells stories from his years in captivity to encourage people to have faith in others as well as themselves. "I learned the value of faith in your fellow man," he said. Kirk was held in captivity for more than five years after he was shot down over Hanoi during his 67th bombing mission on October 28, 1967. His release came once the peace agreement was signed ending the United States involvement in Vietnam.

Kirk's tales of imprisonment and solitary confinement impressed some of the Nevada leadership attending the event.

"I am always absolutely overwhelmed by the support the community shows for the military in general, but particularly for the National Guard," said Brig. Gen. David Snyder, the commander of the Nevada Air National Guard. "Today is another example of the community support for its military personnel."

Today military personnel are supported quite differently than those of the Vietnam War; even the Vietnam Veterans express their support. While Kirk spoke he often said he felt "nobody cared a hoot about him and he was on his own."

"The United States went through a period of weakness in our national character during the Vietnam War and it reflected in the way the military personnel were treated when they returned from war," Snyder said. "Today it is quite different for our Soldiers and Airmen, and we in turn are committed to honoring all Veterans who served before us, especially those Vietnam Veterans."

The American Fallen Soldiers Project presented a portrait of Staff Sgt. Timothy Smith to Gold Star mom Patricia Smith the mother of the South Lake Tahoe Soldier. Smith was killed in action in Iraq in 2008. The portrait was painted by artist Phil Taylor who completes about 35 portraits a year for the project.

"I'm very proud of my son," Smith said. "Of course I wish he were here. There are days when I wish he couldn't go, but I'm very supportive and I'm very proud to be his mother."

"It is always great to be out here in the community, we couldn't do what we do without the support the community shows for us and our families," said Command Sgt. Maj. Jared Kopacki, who is set to become the Nevada Army Guard state command sergeant major. "Mister Taylor has honored Staff Sgt. Smith and his family for their sacrifice to the country. It's truly humbling when you can be a part of something like this and to be able speak with those who have served before you and sacrificed so much of their freedom doing what we do."

The RTO conducts its Salute to the Troops annually inviting military personnel to be a part of numerous events throughout the week.

"The PGA and the RTO are great supporters of the military," said Command Chief Master Sgt. Rick Scurry, the senior enlisted leader in Nevada. "It's a privilege to be here not just for myself, but that the RTO allows our Soldiers and Airmen to be a part of it as well."