EL CENTRO — Imperial Valley locals welcomed home Vietnam veterans during a solemn ceremony held March 29 to celebrate the signing into law S. 305, the “Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017”, at the Veterans Memorial at Bucklin Park in El Centro.
The Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017 designated March 29 as National Vietnam War Veterans Day and encourages the display of the flag of the United States of America. It was signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 28, 2017.
It had been 44 years since the last troops left Vietnam on March 29, 1973, but many brave soldiers still carry the scars and pain from a distant war. It is as if the wounds from punji sticks never healed and remained fresh as they transitioned into civilian lives walking a bitter journey.
In his opening remarks, Thomas Henderson, U.S. Army (1970-1971) said, “We are members of a brotherhood that was combat-tested in Vietnam, and often vilified upon our return to the United States. Many of us still carry the wounds, both physical and psychological, from that conflict. In spite of all that happened, we are proud to be Americans and proud of our brotherhood.”
During his speech, Henderson asked Vietnam veterans to identify themselves and to greet each other with the words “Welcome Home.” Then members of the audience were encouraged to shake hands with the veterans.
After Henderson’s remarks, Rick Ruane, U.S. Navy and Veterans of Foreign Wars Chaplain, led an invocation giving tribute to veterans, both living and dead. During the invocation, veterans called out the names of fellow veterans who had since passed away. Families and friends were also invited to call out the names of veteran family members who have died.
A voice command was heard and Edward Castillo-Rubio, U.S. Army (1966-1967), gave orders to the seven honor guards. Each one wore faded military uniforms and hats decorated with emblems and medals. Each one also carried a rifle loaded with three blank bullets. Three times, they fired in unison. A total of 21 bullets were fired. Castillo-Rubio said the 21-gun salute was to pay homage to those who fell under fire.
The salute was immediately followed by taps played by Arthur Cornejo, U.S. Army (1969-1970). Cornejo was a combat engineer in Vietnam.
Henderson then invited veterans and guests to a potluck at the American Legion, Boyce Aten Post No. 25 on Broadway in El Centro. At that point, every Vietnam veteran greeted each other with “Welcome Home.”
As with other veterans, Henderson’s journey home was met with derision. Soldiers followed orders and they were sent to Vietnam, but when they came back from war, he said their service was denounced. “Many of us were advised to change out of our uniform when we came back so we wouldn’t be insulted. I was actually called a baby killer,” Henderson said.
Veterans suffered the brunt of anger from the nation that was supposed to cheer and welcome them home. Henderson said their treatment from the government after the conflict was a disappointment.
“Until recently, Agent Orange was ignored. We have many veterans that are dying from Agent Orange. We have many issues, psychological and physical, that carried on for years after the war. And what’s more important is, we’re making sure that the veterans of Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan do not get the treatment that we got. We’re not gonna let our government ignore our veterans,” Henderson said.
“They must take care of them. If they can send them to war, they can take care of them when they come home,” he emphasized.
Castillo-Rubio shared the same sentiment. He said during the Vietnam-era the American public turned against them, its own soldiers and veterans.
“We were spit on, and we had bags of urine and bags of feces thrown at us. We were rejected at every point. And so, a lot of us had to hold anger and anxiety. A lot of that led to a lot of veterans committing suicide and things of that nature. It was a terrible time. But we wanted to honor those that served and serve honorably,” said Castillo-Rubio.
With the signing into law of S. 305, the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017, Vietnam Veterans many veterans can finally feel at home.
“NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim March 29, 2012, as Vietnam Veterans Day. I call upon all Americans to observe this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities that commemorate the 50 year anniversary of the Vietnam War.”
Source: Presidential Proclamation March 29, 2012. https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2012/03/29/presidential-proclamation-vietnam-veterans-day
President Donald J. Trump Signs S. 305 into Law. On Tuesday, March 28, 2017, the President signed into law: S. 305, the “Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017,” which encourages the display of the U.S. flag on March 29, National Vietnam War Veterans Day.
Source: White House Press Release, Tuesday, March 28, 2017. https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/03/28/president-donald-j-trump-signs-s-305-law