COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Americans across the country are uniting to honor Vietnam veterans who made the sacrifice of service to our country.
On the fifth anniversary of National Vietnam War Veterans Day, it’s time to remember the neglect those veterans faced for years and the mission to make sure it never happens again.
Many servicemen and servicewomen who are called to serve overseas return home to an outpouring of gratitude and support, but that wasn’t the case for tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans when they returned home nearly 50 years ago.
“When I came back from Vietnam, nobody said, ‘Thank you,’ nobody said, ‘Welcome home.’ Nobody said anything,” said Sgt. Major Jack Tilley, a Vietnam veteran.
It was the same response that greeted almost all Vietnam veterans.
“I think if anybody in this country learned anything, they learned how not to treat veterans,” said Tilley, who served in the United States Army for 36 years.
The Vietnam war was a highly contentious war among Americans at the time, and when those on the front lines returned home, many held them responsible for the loss of life.
“Many were vilified and had to sneak into the airport bathrooms and put civilian clothes on so they weren’t spit on and called baby killers and stuff,” said Lt. Gen. Mike Ferriter, president and CEO of the National Veterans Memorial and Museum.
“When they came back, they didn’t fit in,” Tilley said. “They lived on the streets, they lived in the woods. They had a tough time.”
On Tuesday, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum hosted a welcome home ceremony for many of the central Ohio veterans who never received the proper thank you.
“Shame on our country for doing that, but I think we’ve changed,” Tilley said. “We’ve changed a lot.”
“For them to come here and be connected with each other, connected with us, and to hear that their service matters and to hear that they’re men and women of character, it’s important,” Ferriter said.
Reliving his combat experience, Tilley admits to this day that he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and feels, at times, we still miss the mark when it comes to recognizing Vietnam veterans.
“People that go to war don’t make that decision,” he said. “So, you can’t, whatever I did as a soldier, you don’t blame that on me.”
During Tuesday’s event, the community finally got a chance to say what, for many Vietnam veterans, has been long overdue: “Welcome home.”
“I raised my hand and said, ‘I will protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,’ you know what that means? That means I’m willing to die for your freedom, and people forget that,” Tilley said.
As the final piece of Tuesday’s ceremony, every veteran in attendance that didn’t already have one received an official “welcome home” letter.
Museum officials said they’re planning another similar event for next year.