My Turn: See a Vietnam vet? Welcome him home
Rayman 'Joker' Colby and Mark 'Spiritbear' DiCampo, embrace while greeting each other during the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day ceremony, in which the state officially held the first homecoming ceremony for veterans of the Vietnam War. Colby is the president of the Nam Knights of America Motorcycle Club seacoast chapter and served in the U.S. Army from 1970-1973. DiCampo served in the U.S. Army and National Guard from 1964-1983 and was in Vietnam from 1971 to 1973. (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
I would like to thank the more than 2,000 people who attended the first ever Welcome Home ceremony for Vietnam veterans on March 30 at the New Hampshire National Guard aviation hangar in Concord. The turnout for this wonderful group of American heroes was amazing.
In 1789, General George Washington said, “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional as to how they perceive veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by this country.”
As a nation, we’ve failed only once in recent history to live up to Washington’s challenge, and that was during Vietnam.
Our warriors never justify wars; they follow the orders of civilian leadership, and yet many Americans viewed the Vietnam War as a dishonorable conflict. They viewed our military men and women the same way, regardless of whether they served in Vietnam or another country.
The stigma of participating during the war left our veterans isolated and bitter. The lack of a proper welcome home, and the war itself, is still a source of anger and frustration.
Fortunately, the nation is in a better place today because those same veterans vowed never again to allow that kind of treatment of our warriors. And that’s why we needed the long overdue ceremony Saturday to finally say thank you. Thank the Vietnam veterans for their service to our nation, thank them for looking out for those veterans who came after them, and finally to say welcome home.
One of the best comments I heard after the ceremony came from a Vietnam vet who said, “I can finally tell my wife I’m home.”
There are about 128,000 veterans living in New Hampshire; 46,000 are from the Vietnam era. Unfortunately, there were many Vietnam veterans who did not attend the ceremony. They are still bitter. They are still cynical of any effort meant to right the wrong. They still refuse the help they need and so justly deserve.
So how do we reach out to those other veterans? For me, it’s simple. We follow the Warrior Ethos: “I will always place the mission first, I will never accept defeat, I will never quit and I will never leave a fallen comrade.”
When you see people with a Vietnam bumper sticker on their car, or wearing a “Vietnam Veteran” ball cap, thank them for their service and say, “Welcome home.” It will not replace the years of hurt, but it will make their day.
Please continue to support the Vietnam veterans and all the men and women who have worn, and are still wearing, the uniform. Because if we don’t take care of our own, who will?
(Maj. Gen. William Reddel III is adjutant general of the New Hampshire National Guard.)