Four decades later: Welcome homeHundreds turned out Saturday for a long overdue welcome home ceremony.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
Hundreds turned out Saturday for a long overdue welcome home ceremony.
More than 100 Vietnam veterans were honored for their service during a special welcome home ceremony at the Head of the Lakes fairgrounds.
“I said if someone was going to do something like this, I was going to be here,” said Lou Willie, an Army veteran.
The event featured exhibits, car and art shows and a ceremony that gave the Vietnam veterans recognition for their service and sacrifice in the 1960s and 1970s.
“I’ve had many experiences throughout my life working with veterans, said Dr. Jim Tuorila, himself a veteran who grew up on the Iron Range. “I remember one of the first veterans I worked with who came home on a stretcher from Vietnam only to have a protestor pour a bottle of urine on his body and ask him why he didn’t die over there. He had a difficult time in life. He wasn’t welcomed home like his father and grandfather were welcomed home.”
American sentiment toward the war turned in 1968, when the North Vietnamese Regular Army and Viet Cong launched the Tet Offensive – a series of surprise attacks in cities, towns and hamlets throughout South Vietnam – on the first day of Vietnam’s most important holiday.
While the Tet Offensive was a military failure for North Vietnam – U.S. and South Vietnamese troops retook the cities within weeks – it was a political win because it contradicted U.S. government claims the war was nearly over. It turned many Americans against the war.
“Some people say the Korean War is the forgotten war,” Tuorila said. “If the Korean War is the forgotten war, then the Vietnam vets are the forgotten generation because they abandoned the society that abandoned them and went on with their lives and for many years they even refused to acknowledge they were a Vietnam vet.”
Turoila said it wasn’t until the Vietnam War Memorial was built that the nation recognized the sacrifice – 58,000 U.S. service members killed. More than 304,000 were injured and more than 1,700 remain missing in action.
“We came home from our war, a politically unpopular war, and no one really said ‘thank you,’” said Brad Bennett, a Marine veteran of the war. Despite that, he said, the veterans of the Vietnam War have a lot to be proud of – fighting the longest, fiercest battles and never losing one, despite the politics that lost the war, and making sure the veterans returning now from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are not treated like returning veterans were when they came home from Vietnam.
“You wouldn’t let it happen, and for that, you deserve a round of applause,” Bennett said. “Thank you brothers and sisters of the Vietnam War.”