Joint Base San Antonio is getting ready to honor America’s Vietnam veterans today; 3 million veterans are long overdue for a proper “welcome home.”
About 40 years ago, veterans who served in Vietnam came home in a trickle, wounded and suffering, but there was virtually no one there to greet them.
Members of all four branches of the U.S. military gathered on a Fort Sam Houston parade field Tuesday to rehearse and prepare for hundreds of guests to the 50th Anniversary Welcome Home Ceremony.
Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, commanding general of Army North at Fort Sam Houston, said it’s about time to honor the more than 3 million veterans who fought in one of the worst wars in U.S. history.
"In talking with a lot of our community who are Vietnam veterans, they said, 'You know, we never really were welcomed home. We came home, we put our medals in a box, we put our uniforms away. There was no fan fare, there was no signs greeting us. In fact, if anything we arrived in civilian clothes and never even talked about our service,'" said Caldwell.
Ida Mena, who was there to honor her father, signed a 20-foot card made to greet the veterans as they are escorted through the “Corridor of Thanks.”
The actual anniversary date of the Vietnam War is hard to nail down, but President Obama issued a proclamation declaring the 50th anniversary beginning on Memorial Day of this year, and continuing for 13 years forward.
Caldwell said they expect hundreds to attend the ceremony in San Antonio, and will honor some special retired service members.
"Our guest speaker is going to be a Vietnam veteran, a medal of honor recipient, Major General Brady, retired, who lives here in San Antonio. He was a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War and flew over 2,000 combat missions rescuing or moving over 5,000 casualties," said Caldwell.
Organizations in the San Antonio community are turning out to honor the Vietnam veterans, including the Disabled American Veterans, and the Patriot Guard who will ride their motorcycles through the procession. The San Antonio Police Department is providing an honor guard and a helicopter flyover.
Most military members, like Col. Wayne Shanks, feel a special debt of gratitude to Vietnam veterans, and say a celebration of this magnitude is long overdue the service members who came before them.
"Me, I came through Atlanta. Applause, and people saying, "Yay, welcome home.' They didn't get that, so we owe them 50 years of parades to welcome them back home," said Shanks.
The ceremony starts at 4 p.m. and is open to the public.