Vietnam veterans Dennis Chambers, left, and Michael Higgins reunite yesterday in Atkinson. The veterans, who are also childhood friends, are standing in front of the newly unveiled honor rolls that bear the names of Vietnam vets.

ATKINSON — As Dennis Chambers was flying east, back home to Atkinson from Vietnam in 1969, his brother David was heading west to fight for his country.

Yesterday, the two former Marines were among 73 Vietnam-era veterans whose names were inscribed on two honor roll panels that were unveiled after a two-year struggle. The panels also include the names of two of their other brothers who served during the war.

But David Chambers, 56, now of Danville, said having the honor roll panels finalized was as much an honor and celebration for Atkinson voters as it was for the veterans. They finally had their vote recognized.

“We as veterans went and fought for citizens rights — the right to vote,” he said. “Then for a few select people to ignore it, it’s like saying ‘Put us veterans off to the side again.’”

Voters adopted a warrant article at the 2005 Town Meeting to place two panels with the names of Vietnam-era veterans on them beside the Vietnam War memorial in front of Town Hall.

But the selectmen later voted against placing the panels alongside the Town Hall memorial, just prior to the scheduled Veterans Day dedication in 2005. They said some residents thought the town’s original memorial should remain unaltered.

The matter eventually wound up in state Superior Court, but was put to rest when voters reaffirmed their wishes at a Special Town Meeting this September. The historical society and Citizens Honor Roll Committee, chaired by Carol Grant, led the push.

Yesterday, Grant told a group of more than 100 people that one out of every 20 New Hampshire soldiers who served in Vietnam was from Atkinson.

“A call to serve has gone out to almost every generation in Atkinson,” she said. “That call was answered. ... It’s the people in the town who define the character of the town.”

Page Brown, who received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star during his service in Vietnam, was yesterday’s keynote speaker. He said the word veteran comes from the Latin word “vetus,” meaning old. Although many go off to fight in their teens and 20s, they are referred to as old because of what they carry with them.

He shared the story of three soldiers who were killed when their tank and personnel carrier was hit. Their stories are what he carries as their surviving lieutenant, he said.

All soldiers had a common belief in their country, one that started in small towns like Atkinson, Brown said.

“They played on your street, packed your groceries, dated your daughter ...,” he said. “They knew they were blessed and felt a duty to thank you and protect you.”

Dennis Chambers, 57, and Michael Higgins, were two of those boys who played together and sat near each other in school in Atkinson. Higgins, who served in the Navy from 1968 to 1972, reunited with Chambers yesterday and they embraced in front of the monument that now bears both their names.

“We were 12,” Dennis Chambers said. As he reminisced about their younger days together before the war, a single tear ran down his cheek.

Yesterday was their day to be honored.

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