Welcome Home, Vietnam Veterans

By Guest Contributor June 15, 2010 16:37

Medal of Honor recipients Jon Cavaiani of Columbia (left) and Richard Pittman of Stockton greet the cheering crowd.

On  March 28, 2010, thousands of people gathered in downtown Sonora for the nation’s first “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans” parade, organized by Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 391. Here is one veteran’s view of the emotional event.

By George Eldridge

On September 29, 2009, California became the first state to make March 30 Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day. As the public affairs officer for VVA Chapter 391, I  felt this was the perfect opportunity to uncover the “Invisible Soldier” with a parade.

I thought The Vietnam Veteran had carried a description of “Invisible Soldier” long enough, and that this would provide ample opportunity to let the public meet those who had defended their freedom. Also, I wanted Vietnam veterans to realize that the public sentiment had changed and that Americans really did appreciate and honor their service.

I served in the Navy in Vietnam in 1965 to 1966, and was warned not to wear my uniform in public when I returned. For me, this parade achieved everything I hoped it would. Initially about 150 veterans signed up. When I arrived at the staging area that Sunday, 100 more Vietnam veterans were waiting. This put to rest earlier concerns by some in the community that nobody would show up.

The veterans were surprised when they started down Washington Street. There were thousands of people waiting to cheer and express their gratitude. Veterans who had decided to not be in the parade started filtering into the ranks of the 250 already marching until the number grew to more than 400. Men who had defended freedom bravely had tears in their eyes as they marched.

For me, the high point was when I stopped my Jeep filled with Navy veterans in front of the local newspaper office. Four of them jumped out and unfurled a large American Flag, and the 59th Army Band played the National Anthem. I stood there saluting in my too-tight uniform with tears of pride welling in my eyes.

This was the nation’s first such parade in the 43 years since the Vietnam Conflict ended. While Chapter 391 organized the parade, more than 50 local sponsors made it possible and the huge turnout made it unforgettable.

On that sunny Sunday afternoon, veterans were able to feel the respect and appreciation from the crowds four and five deep all along Washington Street. This emotional event proved that Vietnam veterans were finally welcomed home.

By Guest Contributor June 15, 2010 16:37
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