Finally: A “Welcome Home” to Vietnam veterans
By Margaret Downing
Those of us who remember when we were involved in the Vietnam War also have to remember the lack of “welcome home” given to returning veterans. As just one example, a local Vietnam vet, a combat engineer, recalled arriving home by ship to San Francisco and being spit at as he disembarked with his comrades. Not much of a welcome home.
Half a century later, they are now being welcomed home in the right manner.
Heartland Hospice sponsored a special “Welcome Home to Vietnam Vets,” which was held at the Loves Park city hall complex on March 29. That date is now marked as “National Vietnam War Veterans Day.”
Keynote speaker Jim Puckett, former Loves Park Police Chief, who is a Vietnam vet who served there with the Marines, noted, “We’re here today to honor the valor and sacrifice by our military members who served in Vietnam, and those who served on military bases in support of the men and women in Vietnam. They all had the courage it takes to defend honor, duty and country.
“First and foremost, I want to begin today by recognizing all those among us who have been part of the great brotherhood and sisterhood we call the U.S. military – our veterans, active-duty service members, guardsmen, and reservists. It is your service and sacrifice that has kept our country safe and free. If you’re able, please stand to be recognized.
Thank you for answering the call to defend our great country. You have made our armed forces the most respected in the world.
No matter which branch you served in, whatever your job path or how many years you served, raising your hand and committing yourself to serve your country in the military was a brave and selfless act. One that resulted in few guarantees – of where you would be assigned; whether and where you might deploy; and, in some cases, if you would return home in one piece, or at all.
“Today we are joined by many of our brave Vietnam veterans, Veterans of Foreign War posts, American Legion posts, and MIA/POW groups. These men and women served our nation with their own selfless sacrifices to preserve the best of America, our freedom. We should all be proud to be standing amongst these brave men and women, who fought to keep America a free country.
“These Vietnam veterans come from all walks of life, but they shared several fundamental qualities. They possessed courage, pride, determination, selflessness, dedication to duty, and integrity – all the qualities needed to serve a cause larger than one’s self.
“Vietnam was known as a ‘Shadow War.’ Just as much time was spent hunting for the enemy as in fighting him. But when the enemy did fight, he proved to be as tough an adversary as ever faced by an American soldier.
“I, like many of you here today, am a Vietnam veteran. On July 11, 1969, at the age of 18, I was stepping off of a plane in Da Nang, Vietnam, with fellow Marines. I remember the sight, the smell of jet fuel, distant explosions, and jets taking off. And back in the United States, the antiwar movement was in full swing and the hippy movement preached love and not war, while roughly 250 Americans were dying each week in combat. My MOS was 0311, a grunt, putting me on the front lines fighting the elusive North Vietnamese Army in the jungles of the Northern I – Corps.
“Whether you were fighting in the rice patties, or the jungle, we all remember the monsoonal downpours, the 90 to 120 degree heat in the shade, exhaustion, disease, and the cold tasteless c-rations. The orange pill we took for malaria, the salt tabs, and heating c-rations with C-4.
“All who served in Vietnam remember the nightly listening posts we manned after a day of searching the jungle for the enemy. Never more than an hour or two of sleep at a stretch for months at a time, as we mixed daytime patrolling with night time ambushes. Some listening posts required you to sit back to back with a fellow Marine, so that neither one of you would fall asleep because of the high potential for enemy attack. Calling for help from C-47 gunships (‘Spooky’ and ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’), lighting up the night sky with flares and tracer rounds.
“For those of us who fought and slept in the jungles and rice patties, we will never forget the powerful memory of the thump-thump-thump of helicopters flying over the hills and treetops of Vietnam; chopper pilots flying into hell to take us out of hell. All of these powerful memories still hold true today.
“A total of 2,200 chopper pilots were killed during the Vietnam War, with a loss of 6,000 to 8,000 choppers.
“Ringworm, hookworm, malaria, dysentery, and jungle rot were common, as were trench foot when the monsoons came. It was about walking through swamps and rice paddies and streams – and elephant grass that had sharp edges that cut up clothes and bodies. It was rain and mud and rats and mosquitoes and snakes and leeches and ants. It was about being wet, infected and dirty.
“And then later, we learned when we patrolled bare mountain tops, and valleys, the devastating effects of the defoliant agent orange, not only to vegetation but to our health afterward.
“American POWs in Vietnam struggled to survive horrid conditions, physical pain, and psychological deprivation, often for years on end.
“There were 2,500 Prisoners of War, or missing in action. 1,200 Americans were reported to have been killed in action with no body recovered. 591 American POWs were returned during Operation Homecoming.
“The Vietnam War was a war without front lines. It was built around small-unit actions intended to surprise the enemy or lure them into attacking. You were the bait. The objective was to kill enough of the enemy to dissuade them from continuing the war. “Vietnam had no benchmarks comparable to those of World War II with headlines of territories won, of happy villagers cheering their liberation.
“The Vietnam War had as many individual acts of courage and bravery and sacrifices as any other war. However, there was less interest in hearing and reporting them by the press.
“Forty-six years ago today, on March 29, 1973, was the day ‘Military Assistance Command Vietnam’ was deactivated.”
Puckett also noted the following points, which he referred to “Advancements from the Vietnam War:
“Vietnam raised today’s generation of military leaders. Since Vietnam, medical care has continued to evolve as a result of challenges faced in the jungles and rice paddies of Vietnam
-Gunshot victims wheeled into any big city trauma center benefit from techniques that a generation of medics and surgeons first learned repairing combat wounds.
-Most of the emergency medical response in the United States today evolved from medical experiences in the jungles and rice paddies of Vietnam in the late 1960s.
-Combat support hospitals are now more mobile and more sophisticated than in Vietnam, and have moved closer to the front, reducing the time of medical transport
-Surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, and other staff advanced medical practices for soldiers receiving care in areas of trauma care and blood supply and repair of blood vessels to save limbs.
-The PTSD field has matured to the point where evidence based treatments work. This statement couldn’t have been made following the Vietnam War.
-One of the major breakthroughs in Vietnam was the use of the helicopter to transport the wounded. This has advanced to today’s war, where we have flying intensive care units. We can put multiple people inside a large plane with nurses, technicians, and doctors and safely transport them out of theater to a major hospital to get the quality care they need and deserve.
-The ability to quickly move the injured out of harm’s way has increased the rate at which service members also recover from injuries suffered on the battlefield.
-Combat medics are learning new techniques and receiving new tools, such as wound dressings that can clot blood and tourniquets that can be applied by one hand, that raise the chances of saving lives.
“In closing:
“It is the solider, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.
“It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.
“It is the solider, not the organizer, who has given us freedom to demonstrate.
“It is the soldier who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag.
“By Father Dennis Edward O’Brien, USMC
“Thank you veterans, thank you for a job well done.”

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