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Vietnam vets wait for ‘Welcome home’

It was a different time, admits State Rep. Norm Johnson.

When Vietnam Veterans returned from war, there were no parades. No streets lined with folks waving American flags. No confetti and no “Welcome Home” from patriotic citizens.

But there is still time to make up for that.

That’s why Johnson introduced House Bill 1319 last month, and the House unanimously approved it making March 30 “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day” every year throughout Washington state.

The State Senate now has the measure and has referred it to its Governmental Operations Committee for study. It is expected to pass the Senate before mid March, according to State Sen. Pam Roach, chairman of the committee.

Johnson said he introduced the bill after Gil Calac, a constituent in his Yakima-area district, suggested a day for Vietnam Veterans.

“We need to realize that these young men and women who were called to go to Vietnam didn’t go because they necessarily wanted to go,” Johnson said. “They went to serve this great nation of ours.”

Calac, a Vietnam Veteran himself, and a member of the Yakama Warriors Association, said he wants to make sure Vietnam Veterans are not forgotten.

“We were looked down on when we came home from Vietnam,” he said. “That still lives inside many of us today. To have a day that we are recognized for what we did for the nation, that would bring closure and help us put away the guilt.”

The Yakama Warriors are a group of American Indian Vietnam Veterans who support each other and veteran causes, he said. As the group’s cultural representative, he took on working with the State Legislature to see that the day be proclaimed.

Calac said a similar day was designated last year in Oregon and in California, and he is working with others to try to get a national day of recognition passed by the U.S. Congress.

Here in Washington state, once the bill passes the Senate, it will be signed into law and a proclamation will be issued by Gov. Jay Inslee. Events are being set for Friday, March 29, to precede the March 30 date when the proclamation will designate that the American flag, the Washington state flag and the MIA/POW flag will fly over all state buildings, including the Capitol in Olympia.

On March 29, the Yakama Warriors, any other Vietnam Veterans and their families are invited to the Capitol where they will carry in the flags to the House and Senate chambers. Following a short ceremony, veterans and family members will gather at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the Statehouse grounds. There will be a pow wow drum ceremony and a circle of life will be formed by the religious leaders who are on hand. Calac is hoping to have pins and ribbons for all Vietnam Veterans to wear.

While it’s not a “Welcome Home” parade, Calac thinks it will go a long way to heal old wounds.

“The treatment we received when we came home still haunts us,” he said. He served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970 and received a Bronze Star. “We need this to help us move on.”

Johnson agreed.

“The way the Vietnam Veterans were treated when they came home is something that, today, we know was wrong,” he said. “I’ve heard horror stories about people yelling at them that they were baby killers.

“It was a very different time then. But now it’s time to thank them for their service and honor them once a year with their own day.”

More information about the Vietnam Veterans Welcome Home events is available online from the Washington State Veterans Affairs office at www.dva.wa.gov.

 

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