The Cullman Times
In July of 1968, I returned to Travis AFB, Calif., from a year in Vietnam, where we had experienced the Communist Tet offensive and where I had lost many friends. Before we left Travis, we were briefed that we should change out of our uniforms into civilian clothes to travel home. It seemed that wearing the uniform in public would expose us to criticism and even open threats from a public that was unhappy with us and the war. Many of my military friends experienced just that kind of treatment. When we returned to our hometowns, there were no parades, no positive news articles, no ceremonies, no welcomes, and no thanks. We watched and read nothing but negative press coverage and anti-war rallies, night after night.
Next year, we will observe the 50th anniversary of the beginning of that war. Even today, 50 years later, when Vietnam veterans meet each other, we say “welcome home brother.” We have learned that we must do it ourselves! During the past 65 years, community events have focused on honoring the greatest generation, the participants in World War II, and, rightfully so. Korean War veterans were largely given only honorable mention and Vietnam veterans simply disappeared into civilian life, not wishing to remember or re-live or be recognized.
In the meantime, as the years have passed, members of the greatest generation have slipped away, and veteran’s organizations have declined in membership, because Vietnam veterans have remained “underground”, avoiding anything that would remind them of “their war” and America’s reaction to it and them! Hence, here in Cullman, the American Legion has closed it’s building and moved in with the VFW, the Disabled American Veterans have closed their building and moved in with the VFW, Purple Heart veterans meet in a living room once a month and VFW strength is down to 40 “active” members! If things don’t change, soon Cullman will have no visible veterans to wave at in the fair parade, or to promote patriotism in our schools, or to put flags out on Highway 31, or on veteran graves on Memorial Day, or to raise funds for disadvantaged vets, or to visit nursing home vets, or do veteran funerals, or help returning troops to understand and get the benefits they deserve, or, last but not least, to remind all of us that freedom isn’t free!
This year, this Vietnam veteran is determined to honor the Vietnam Veterans of Cullman County with a day long Veteran’s Day event in Veteran’s Park at Sportsman’s Lake. It will take place on Saturday, Nov. 9, and will feature sky diving, air shows, Vietnam videos and displays, interviews with Vietnam vets, live music, a free lunch for all vets and their spouses and a ceremony paying tribute to Cullman boys who were lost in ’Nam. All veterans will be honored but Vietnam vets will be the center of attention!
If you are a Vietnam veteran, please plan to attend. If you are a family member of a Vietnam vet, please, please get your veteran there. If your family lost a member from Cullman in Vietnam, call me at 256-507-1121. If you are a “true” patriotic American and want to say a very belated thank-you to these forgotten warriors, circle Nov. 9 on your calendar right now!
Finally, if you did serve in ’Nam, it’s time to resurface! Come and find your band of brothers at the Cullman VFW (lunch every Thursday). Don’t wait for November, join us now! Oh, and welcome home, brother!
Ken Brown, Colonel, U.S.A.F. (RET)