Jackie Jenkins wants to make amends to veterans of the Vietnam War for how they were treated when they came home, so she decided to throw a welcome home party.
The Vietnam Era Veterans Welcome Home Celebration took place this past Saturday at American Legion Vaughn-Walling Post 550 in Pilot Point.
The entrance to the post was lined with miniature American Flags, and each veteran was greeted at the door with a hug and an expression of gratitude. The event featured a welcome home ceremony from 1 to 1:30 p.m. and then the rest of the afternoon transitioned into a flurry of eating, drinking and dancing.
Jenkins, who’s the chaplain of the auxiliary unit of the local American Legion, was inspired by an interaction between vets one night.
“It was July 4th weekend and I was out at a restaurant with my sister and her date and during our meal, a gentleman walked over to my friend and said welcome home,” Jenkins said. “My friend was wearing a hat that said he was a Vietnam veteran and it turns out the gentleman was, too. After talking with some of the veterans at the Legion, we decided it was a good idea to recognize our veterans that served in Vietnam.”
Jenkins said the day was the first step in a long period of healing.
“Even if it’s just one Vietnam vet, I would like to see the wounds from the past begin to heal,” Jenkins said. “It was our peer group that did it to each other, for whatever reason.
“I think the biggest lesson learned is to separate the warrior from the war. This was the age of the draft; these guys didn’t have a choice. They had to go. Not only did they have to go, but they went with pride and made a great sacrifice only to come home to harsh criticism.”
A widespread anti-war sentiment ran rampant during the 60s that spilled into the early 70s. Many citizens didn’t agree with the country entering the Vietnam War and some protested the soldiers with insults as they came off the plane. Some veterans recalled being spat on as they walked by protesters.
“It was called the living room war because we saw the carnage in our living rooms every night,” Jenkins said. “It became very tumultuous because we would ask ourselves, ‘Are we sending our children to fight for this?’ We didn’t even understand why we were there.”
People became so anti-war, they became anti-warrior, Jenkins said.
Staff Sgt. Billy Miller, who served 10 years in Vietnam, recalled what his return from the war was like.
“We had to change into civilian clothes to avoid being harassed,” Miller said. “You didn’t feel proud in public and that was very discouraging to the veterans coming home. You didn’t have to serve in Vietnam to be harassed; if you were wearing a uniform, you’d hear it too.”
Miller called it a time where all Vietnam vets were at an all-time low in their lives.
“They became alcoholics and drug addicts, and others just didn’t talk about it,” Miller said.
The feeling of honor and respect from this generation is totally different, especially on a day like this.
“I became proud to be a veteran,” Miller said. “Days like today are good days. You can look around and see all the vets here laughing and having a good time. It’s a different atmosphere.”