Although all who had served in Southeast Asia in the parade were very much appreciated by the reception of the estimated 1,500 spectators. Chapter member Tom Nelson, who served in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968, summed up the reaction of the vets to the crowd of well-wishers in eight words, “There wasn’t a dry eye among the veterans.”
Being among the Vietnam vets taking part in the parade, Nelson and the others couldn’t help but think back to when they returned from the Vietnam War and the reaction they received in the late 1960s or early 1970s.
Nelson was joined in the Douglasville parade by numerous Vietnam veterans, including Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 935 co-founder George Hale, a 24-year Air Force veteran who served in Southeast Asia from 1966 through 1967.
Among the contingent of Vietnam vets in the parade were three who served in the Army, including Nelson, who served from 1967 through 1968, Steve Huggins, who served from 1969 through 1970, and Danny Cole, who served from 1969 through 1971.
Each recalled how different the reception was in that politically divisive era.
Hale said when he again touched American soil after Vietnam, the American public was not as organized or vocal in its opposition to the war as those soldiers who would return home in later years of the conflict.
“I can remember there was plenty of cold beer on the plane that kept flowing until we touched down in Atlanta,” he said. “However there were no cheers or pats on the back for a job well done as there are now for returning soldiers.”
Huggins said when he returned home, there were also no cheers at the airport, even though the flight attendants on his plane hung up a few welcome home balloons.
“Those guys on the plane, like me, were so dog-tired, we really didn’t care,” he said. “However, I do remember one lady who walked by me and said something derogatory about those fighting in Vietnam but I just kept walking.”
Resentment against the Vietnam War had not reached its peak when Nelson returned home. However, military officials told the returnees not to wear their uniforms because of protests that could erupt if they were in uniform.
Cole was able to return immediately to Douglasville, “and I had a good homecoming, much better than most of the other guys who returned after 1970 or so.”
However, each Vietnam vet agreed that soldiers with service in Iraq and Afghanistan are receiving the well-deserved thanks of the American people for their service in the war on terror.
“I believe the service of the Vietnam veteran has helped the American people be more aware and appreciative of what military service means,” Hale said.