Vietnam Veterans, Fallen Soldiers, MIAs Remembered, Honored

Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Event Reverent, Enlightening

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By Dianne Alward-Biery
Cleaver Staff Writer
Copyright Clare County Cleaver

HARRISON – The 7th Annual Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day celebration was held Friday, March 30 at the Harrison American Legion Post 404. Vietnam Veterans & Associates Chapter 1047 hosted the event, which began with the Honor Guard posting the Colors. Then Joe Prato, Vietnam Veterans of America chapter president, placed a folded American flag before a black plaque with gold lettering from which hung a military dog tag. The plaque read: “IN MEMORY/ 1959 to 1975/ 58,479 BROTHERS AND SISTERS WHO EVER RETURNED/ VIETNAM WAR.”

Welcoming attendees was Ken Spiegel, Legion 404 2nd vice commander.vets

“We have this event every year, since the holiday was passed,” Spiegel said. “The main thing we want to do today is enjoy the day, and if you don’t know somebody, get to meet them – because it took the Vietnam veterans a long time to meet anybody. We’re here to do that today.”

After a prayer offered by post chaplain Bob Warner, American Legion Post 404 Commander Darrald Martin spoke with great emotion about the too-long-ignored sacrifices of those who served in Vietnam.

“I spent 26 years as a combat medic,” Martin said. “Through my years of service, I’ve noted some very sad treatment of U.S. troops who served in the Vietnam War. The American people overlooked/down on them, and through the years all I saw was negative. I just couldn’t understand how their own country would turn their backs on their own American troops.”

Martin went on to say that when 9/11 came along, Americans watched soldiers return from the Iraq War with physical and mental problems.

“It was like a slap in the face,” he said. “People started asking themselves, ‘Oh what did we do to our military personnel who were sent into the Vietnam War?’ Yes, it took some time, but Americans started taking a closer look at our Vietnam veterans and how they had been treated.”

vetsMartin said the reason he was there that day was to remind people that no one can turn back the hands of time, but they can move on with a long-overdue “thank you and welcome home to an era of American veterans”.

Pat Loafman, 1st vice commander, told of his service and experiences as a Vietnam veteran.

“I was in the infantry, and our main objective was search and destroy,” Loafman said. “It was a hard job. After I got out of the Army and came home, I went to San Francisco, Calif. I got off the airplane and they threw rotten eggs and oranges – that’s how they treated us. I’m proud to say when I was in the Army, I received the Bronze Star for heroism on two different occasions. I gave my heart to my country and that was a sad time when they done that to us. May we never have anything like that happen to veterans again. May we respect all of our veterans. I’m proud to be standing here before you, proud I’m alive to be here.”

Visiting the event were representatives of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Michilimacinac Chapter of Clare and Gladwin counties. Dawn Bublitz chapter vice regent, described the organization’s founding in 1890, its fundamental tenets and its ongoing work in support of patriotism. She also thanked the veterans in attendance.

“We want to thank you all for your service to our country, and for help keeping us safe and free,” she said. “God bless all of you. Let’s not forget the POWs and MIAs, always in our hearts and thoughts and prayers. Welcome home, Vietnam vets.”

At this point, Spiegel reminded the crowd that when the flag was brought forward and seated [earlier], it was not done as a memorial.

“We’re here seating that flag in honor of our brothers and sisters that served all services,” he said. “That flag is in honor of those that we’ve lost. And me being from a unit that lost more than two-thirds of its organization, I do it every day. I honor those people. I was close to being one of them, but I made it home and that’s why I’m here.”

Next to speak was Joe Prato, also a combat veteran. He welcomed all Vietnam veterans in attendance.

“We’re proud of you, and all veterans serving today,” he said. “I say to you something that all U.S. citizens should have said to you a long time ago: Thank you for serving your country, and welcome home. Always remember where you came from, who you are, and stand proud.”

Prato said the day’s event was reaffirming of one of the country’s most fundamental obligations: To show all who have worn the uniform of the United States the respect and integrity they deserve.

“A half century after the helicopters swept off the ground and into the jungles of Vietnam, to this day I don’t understand why my fellow veterans were ever treated as if they were enemies.”

Prato said he is grateful that times have changed, and America welcomes home with open arms the men and women who serve in harm’s way.

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“And now belatedly offer thanks to those of my era as well as, specifically, the annual celebration of Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day recognizes you remarkable veterans,” Prato said. “Our nation stands stronger for their service, and on this day we honor their proud legacy with our deepest gratitude and say: Welcome home, and thank you.”

He also took the occasion as an opportunity to recognize and thank some of the members and volunteers who put forth great effort and commitment on behalf of the Legion and the VVA. To that end, he awarded plaques of appreciation for the efforts of some 17 people, the last of whom was Ken Spiegel.

Then the attending veterans were acknowledged, beginning with World War II veteran Ed Haynack and Korea War veteran Larry Huntley. Then the Vietnam vets were asked to stand. All received appreciative applause from family, friends and other supporters.

“We can’t say this enough,” Spiegel said. “Thank you all, we’re all brothers and if you’re female and you served over there, you’re a sister. We were there, we done that, we’re home. Now let’s look after the ones that didn’t get here, and the ones that are still living. Welcome home, brothers.”

The program was followed by a tasty lunch and an opportunity to speak with veterans and learn a bit more about their experiences.

The officers and members of VVA 1047 has issued a thank you to all those who supported their raffle, guests who join in the honoring and welcoming home veterans and all who gave of their time to make the 2018 event a great success.

For information about the American Legion 404 or VVA 1047, call 989-539-9792 or visit www.404americanlegion.org.