Almost exactly five years ago Congress declared March 30 Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.
The problem, though, said Roy Buskirk, an Allen County Council member and a Vietnam veteran, was no one seemed to notice. It wasn’t until March 3 of this year that the Indiana legislature recognized the day.
On Sunday, the first Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day ceremony in Allen County was held at Riverview Cemetery, remembering those who served and died in Vietnam. A Vietnam-era tank that once sat in Johnny Appleseed Park served as a backdrop for the event.
Matt Lehman, a state representative from Adams County, told the approximately 60 people who attended that he was only 10 years old when the war was raging and didn’t understand. It wasn’t until he went to aviation school, where many instructors were Vietnam veterans, that he learned about the war.
He does remember, though, when a young soldier from his home in tiny Linn Grove – Merlin Beer – came home in a flag-draped casket. Later, he saw Beer’s name on the Vietnam Wall, and it gave him a sense of patriotism. He recognized what he did and what all who served in Vietnam did.
Richard Hoeppner, the mayor of Woodburn, said he was drafted in 1968, and willingly went to Vietnam. I know some thumbed their nose at us, he said, but he thanked his fellow veterans.
Buskirk, who was a member of the airborne, said he thanked the Lord for returning him and other veterans, but he said he always wondered, Why me? when more than 50,000 Americans died in the war.
Meanwhile, Ralph Garcia, the founder of an area chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America, noted that veterans of Vietnam returned to have positive and creative lives, not the troubled lives that are so often depicted in the movies.
The ceremony will be an annual event at the cemetery on March 30.