A group of Vietnamese women who escaped the country more than 40 years ago paid tribute to U.S. veterans of the war during Winter Park's Veterans Day event Friday.

Members of the Vietnam Unforgettable Memories Foundation, dressed in vibrant blue traditional dresses, presented the veterans at the event with the Department of Defense's 50th Anniversary commemorative pin, which marks a half-century since U.S. troops fought in Vietnam.

The first pin was given to Ret. Marine Col. Donald L. Stiegman. During a 35-year career, he flew two tours in Vietnam and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, presented for aerial heroism.

The nonprofit foundation seeks out Gold Star families to personally recognize them and thank them for their sacrifices, founder Christine Doan said.

Army veterans Larry Miller and Glenn Paige, both of Winter Park, said it was their first time coming to the annual event, but they felt it was important to be there.

"I'm very proud to be a veteran, proud to be here today, to support my country and those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the service of our country," said Paige, who served at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii from 1974 to 1976. "It touches my heart when I think about it. When I watch a war movie and I see a soldier get killed, I think about it and think by the grace of God I'm here today," he said.

Miller, a former staff sergeant who served two stints in the Army, from 1973 to '81 and from 1982 to '96, said, "I'm just proud to have served, and I wish everyone had an opportunity to serve. This is a wonderful country, and I'm proud of it."

Speakers at the event, held at the Winter Park Community Center on New England Avenue, included Ret. Army Col. Jay Voorhees, who commanded the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade in Germany and now is assistant vice president of global strategy at Florida Hospital, and Rev. John D. Williams.

Winter Park Mayor Steve Leary touched on the nation's political climate but noted one unifying force:

"Our house is somewhat divided, but our service personnel are the great reminder: You are our conscience," Leary said. "... We must recognize our need to earn that which you've provided to us."