MOULTRIE -- A decorated Vietnam veteran will be the keynote speaker at the Veterans of Foreign Wars meeting Tuesday, helping the group to mark Vietnam Veterans Recognition Week.

John F. Gwizdak, past commander-in-chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, will speak at 8 p.m., preceded by supper at 7.

Gwizdak joined the U.S. Army in 1958, and 10 years later he attended Officer Candidate School and was commissioned a second lieutenant. He retired in 1978 as a captain.

His service career included three tours in Germany, including a rotational tour in Berlin, and in Vietnam with Co. E, 4th Battalion, 12th Infantry, 199th Light Infantry Brigade. Starting out as a mortar platoon leader, he eventually assumed command of Company E, based at Long Binh.

His military awards and decorations include the Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal, four awards of the Bronze Star Medal (including one for valor), Purple Heart, Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with palm device, three Army Commendation Medals, Army Occupation Medal (Berlin), Vietnam Campaign and Service medals, three Good Conduct Medals, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Combat Infantryman's Badge, Parachutist Badge and Drill Sergeant's Badge.

He was inducted into the U.S. Army Officer Candidate School Hall of Fame.

Gwizdak joined the VFW in 1977 and rose through the ranks to become the national commander-in-chief in August 2000.

Gwizdak's speech is the principal local event of the VFW's Vietnam Veterans Recognition Week. Earlier this week, Moultrie Mayor Bill McIntosh signed a proclamation that joined the president and Congress in naming May 1 as Loyalty Day, and the proclamation identifies the Vietnam Veterans Recognition Week as beginning on that day. Loyalty Day has been celebrated on the first of May for more than 50 years, the proclamation says.

The Vietnam War began Aug. 5, 1964. The United States exited the war March 28, 1973, and Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, fell to the army of North Vietnam on May 7, 1975.

Between the beginning of the war and March 28, 1973, more than 3.4 million American soldiers, sailors and airmen served in the Southeast Asia Theater -- 2.6 million of them in Vietnam itself and the rest either in adjacent countries or in the waters off the coast. Another 50,000 men served in Vietnam between 1960 and 1964 as military advisers helping the South Vietnamese to fight insurgents supported by the North.

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