Monday, April 11, 2011

Welcome Home, Vietnam Veteran's Day!

I was a teenager when my husband-to-be(whom I hadn't met yet) was coming home from a year in Vietnam. I knew there was a war. Our family sent care packages to a former neighbor boy who was there. My Mom and I bought copper bracelets with the names of MIA soldiers on them.

It was also a time of peace and love which ironically resulted in protests and riots. People rallied against the war building up such momentum that people became angry with the returning soldiers. These soldiers had grown up with movies about the previous wars and how the heroes were warmly and greatly welcomed when they came home. It had to be such a shock to be yelled at, spit on and ridiculed. Previous veterans wore their uniforms with pride. The Vietnam Veteran was risking ridicule if he wore his in public. They were discriminated against in getting jobs.
If the stress of being at war were not enough, the hatred their home country expressed toward them had to take its toll.

There is a movement (started by Jose Ramos) to make March 30, National Welcome Home Vietnam Vet Day. I am proud to say that California was first and Connecticut was second to embrace this endeavor. It is a long overdue attempt to make up for the wrongful way the returning soldiers were treated.

We attended the ceremony on April 10, 2011 at Cheshire, CT. Rob Simmons was the well chosen master of ceremonies. The organizers of the program did a good job for their first efforts. The football stadium location was perfect to accommodate everyone and we were pleased that the sound system was excellent.

The ceremonies included: the Governor's Color Guard, the National Anthem (sung beautifully by a teenager), a prayer, a helicopter flyover, the Pledge of Allegiance led by a seven year old (to give us hope for the future generations), 21 gun salute, taps, the folding of the flag (which will be a separate blog entry), Amazing Grace by bagpipes and several excellent speakers. The Vietnam Gallantry Cross was given out to a half dozen Vietnam Vets (George was awarded the cross in a previous ceremony a couple of years ago) and one Air Medal. Teenagers gave their time to direct cars and assist with the program. They also created artwork for the occasion. A band after the speeches played a song they wrote to welcome home the veterans. The only thing lacking was an official written program.

The speakers spoke of the unfair way the Vietnam Veterans were treated. They spoke of the 1695 unaccounted for, 27 of whom are from Connecticut. One spoke of meeting the mother of one of the CT MIA when the traveling wall came to CT and how her heart still aches not having the closure of having her son's remains found and sent home.

One speaker wanted the veterans to know that they had not fought in vain, as some would say. Vietnam did gain more freedoms than before the war.

A VFW post leader spoke of how unprepared the Vietnam Veterans were--expecting a "welcome home" and closure; instead they felt confused, abandoned and betrayed.

This part of history has left a gaping whole in some hearts. Words and actions once spoken cannot be taken back. This ceremony is too long overdue. It can help heal. The only thing it was missing was an apology. It is obvious it won't come from someone who should be apologizing, but it would be good for someone to say, "I apologize that this happened to you." It was there, I suppose, unspoken. Over and over they did say, "Welcome Home". Again, it will never be said enough. Someone said that "time heals all wounds". I'm not so sure with this one. It can ease the pain, but some wounds are just too deep.

My husband will say, "Welcome home" to fellow Veterans and they to him in return. I am happy to see them say it to one another. Since we are always together, I usually don't say anything. I realize that I should say thank you or welcome home to them too. I was not part of the problem when they returned, but those that were, won't apologize, so the best thing the rest of us can do is to express our gratitude whenever possible.

I hope that the momentum of this project catches on and that a National Welcome Home, Vietnam Veteran's Day is established. It really is the least we, as a country, can do for them.

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