Many Vietnam War veterans found that coming home was not always the rewarding experience that their from World War II were afforded.
Years of protests, political division and damaging publicity about the war in Southeast Asia caused many veterans to quietly take off their uniforms and blend back into society without much notice. Others were called names and insulted for having been involved in the war.
With the passing of time and greater perspective on the causes and mission of American involvement in Vietnam, members of the Veterans of Foreign War Post 2214 in Cullman are aiming to draw public attention to the value of those veterans’ service. The effort culminates Saturday at Veterans Memorial Park at Sportsman Lake with an all-day event that celebrates and remembers those who served in Vietnam.
Activities will get under way at 9 a.m., followed by the official opening ceremony at 10 a.m., featuring remarks from retired Col. John Casper, Cullman Mayor Max Townson, Cullman County Commission Chairman Kenneth Walker and state Sen. Paul Bussman.
Visitors to the park will be treated to live concerts featuring bluegrass and country music and DJ who will play music and commercials that were popular or common during the Vietnam War era.
“If a Vietnam veteran sees another veteran and we have something on that identifies us, we say ‘Welcome home, brother,’” said VFW member Ken Brown, a retired Air Force colonel. “We’ve been welcoming each other home all these years, but not by our communities. We want people to come out and get to know the veterans who served their country and learn about what they did. We hopefully can put some bitterness behind and take an opportunity to show the kids and grandkids what the war in Vietnam was about.”
Much of Saturday’s event will recreate the Vietnam atmosphere, from the Armed Services Radio programs to the arrival of Huey helicopters and other vehicles that were commonly used in the era.
The Huey helicopter was considered the workhorse of the Vietnam War and just about every service member rode in one. Visitors will be able to sit in the helicopter and other vehicles and learn from veterans the details of how the equipment was used in the war. There will also be educational videos about the war, all appropriate for children.
Another highlight of the event will be two airshows, one by keynote speaker Casper, who was shot down in Vietnam twice in 45 days.
“That happened in 1966,” Casper said. “I was sent home and after the second one and helped with training. I then went back for a second tour in 1969. A lot of guys were treated poorly when they came home, especially those who were drafted. They were only doing their jobs, but they seemed to get the worst of it. I think the idea of a welcome home event is a great idea.”
Randy McGraw, VFW post commander, said Saturday’s event will also include an opportunity for residents to meet veterans who were wounded in recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. A tent for the Wounded Warriors project will be open to the public and allow people to make donations.
“A lot of people have heard about Wounded Warriors on television, but this is a chance to actually meet some of the people involved,” McGraw said.
McGraw, who earned one of two Purple Hearts in fighting Al-Qaeda in Somalia, said Wounded Warriors will provide outlines on how donations help returning veterans.
“This is a great opportunity for churches, civic organizations and others to make a donation to an organization that has been doing a great job helping veterans who were injured serving their country,” Brown added.
The event at Veterans Park is scheduled 9 a.m.- 3 p.m. Saturday. Concessions will also be available throughout the day.
David Palmer may be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org or 256-734-2131, ext. 116.