By CHERIL VERNON
When the Vietnam War ended in the 1970s, many Vietnam-era veterans were treated badly upon their return to American soil.
But on Friday — the day before the 41st anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War on March 29, 1973 when the last United States troops left South Vietnam — Palestine officials and veterans' groups gave local Vietnam veterans a warm welcome during a special “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans” event.
More than 140 people attended the event, which included a ceremony and luncheon at Dogwood Trails Assisted Living & Memory Care.
The patriotic ceremony was punctuated by a new honor guard made up of members of the Palestine Police Department and Palestine Fire Department, led by Police Chief Robert Herbert, suited in their dress blues.
Participating organizations were the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 991 led by Commander Allan Ayo, American Legion led by Commander Don Derby, Disabled American Veterans Chapter 63 by Commander Mike Hodgson, Veterans of Foreign Wars 8907 led by Commander Chuck Folsom, VFW 8924 led by Commander John Campbell and VFW 5872 Fairfield Commander Roger Brooks.
The honor guard presented a United States flag to Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 991 President Allan Ayo — however, the flag is meant for all local Vietnam veterans.
“I want to thank all Vietnam veterans, the women and men who served our country. We at the VVA Chapter 991 may be the custodial guardian of this flag which will be permanently displayed at the DAV (Disabled American Veterans) Hall, but please remember this belongs to all of you, and mostly to our brothers and sisters who fought under our flag and didn't come home,” Ayo said.
Anderson County Sheriff Greg Taylor expressed his gratitude to the Vietnam veterans during the ceremony.
“It is truly an honor to stand among American heroes,” Taylor said, noting he was the stepson of a Vietnam veteran.
Taylor gave credit to Vietnam veterans for taking the high road even though they were treated badly upon their return and being supportive of future generations of veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“You weren't welcomed home as heroes should have been,” Taylor said. “...But you handled it with dignity and class and I salute you.”
PPD Chief Robert Herbert and PFD Chief Alan Wilcher also thanked the Vietnam veterans.
“Thank you for your dedication and what you have done for us,” Herbert said.
Wilcher added, “I can't fathom all the sacrifices you made for us. We are extremely proud to support you. Every day should be Veterans Day.”
Phillip Smith, regional director to U.S. Senator Jeb Hensarling's office, also spoke during the ceremony. Smith was with Hensarling last week when the congressman presented military awards and medals to two Palestine veterans during a ceremony at the Palestine Mall — World War II veteran Archie Thomas and Vietnam War veteran Jerry Howard.
“Thank you for the sacrifices that were made and to the families,” Smith said, noting Hensarling's office was proud to honor veterans who have protected and fought for our country. “Let's take this day to remember, but everyday remember to thank them for our freedoms.”
Past DAV Chapter 63 Commander Gordon Brett led the ceremony. He also is past commander for DAV District 3 (which includes 37 counties and 15 chapters).
“We have a lot of heartfelt admiration for these fellows,” Brett said, referring to the Vietnam veterans during the ceremony.
Incoming VVA Chapter 991 Commander Steve Severn, who also serves as the commander of the VVA Chapter 991 Honor Guard, presented a U.S. flag to Ayo for his leadership to the local VVA organization.
“Alan (Ayo) has worked very hard in the past six years as commander of the VVA Chapter 991, not only in the chapter but working out in the community, calling on people to help and doing what needed to be done,” Severn said. “I want to thank you for your leadership. When I started in the VVA we had 38 members and now we have grown to 168 members, plus a very active honor guard and nursing home visits.”
Vietnam veteran Hollis Bradshaw presented a U.S. Flag to Dogwood Trails Assisted Living & Memory Care Executive Director Lori Wolf for hosting the “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans” event at the facility.
On behalf of Associates of Vietnam Veterans Chapter 991, members Jody Henry and Debbie Wesson, AVVA Chapter 991 member Patricia McClure presented the veterans with a commemorative gift in honor of prisoners of war and those missing in action.
A barbecue lunch followed the ceremony. The event was sponsored by Dogwood Trails Assisted Living & Memory Care, Glenn Conner (Grace DME), AVVA Chapter 991, VFW Ladies Auxilary Post 3907, Shep's BBQ, Jr. Miller, Palestine Police Department, Palestine Fire Department, state representatives, KLTV Tyler and Gordon Brett (DAV Chapter 63).