Even though implementation of the draft forced men into active duty, Vietnam antiwar protesters directed their misguided bitterness toward those soldiers and labeled them as traitors. Our government did not have transition programs in place for the soldiers returning home after experiencing the trauma of war zones. Vietnam War soldiers were not welcomed home and thanked for their service upon their return from deployment as present day soldiers are. However, it takes just one. One person can right a wrong. More than forty years after serving in Vietnam, Dick, along with over 250 other Vietnam Veterans, were honored with a Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Ceremony at Camp Ripley south of Brainerd. It was the brainchild of Minnesota Army National Guard Col. Scott St. Sauver, Camp Ripley post commander.
At 12:30 p.m., the veterans began boarding buses that drove around the block then returned to their starting point. They descended the buses steps to be greeted by a cheering, flag waving crowd lining both sides of the procession's pathway that lead to rows of chairs facing a stage. After opening the ceremony with the National Anthem, various speakers expressed their appreciation for the veterans' service. Despite the passing of years, the emotion felt by the aging veterans was evident. It was only right, afterall, that the Vietnam War soldiers be welcomed home... finally.
In the Camp Ripley Museum, each war is featured in a display of photos and memorabilia. Dick stood at the Vietnam War display holding the flag of his country... a symbol of the United States of America that he valiantly represented.
He explained to me the shortcomings of the vest that was designed to protect him from enemy fire. Because of the lack of extremity coverage, he took a hit to the upper arm earning him a Purple Heart*. It caused destruction to a major artery nearly taking his life. He was 22 years old... just a kid. Nerve damage affected a hand and foot and shrapnel still remains in various parts of his body. Throughout the years, I have eased him through recurring nightmares that he continues to experience yet today at 63 years old. Make it a point to thank a veteran for his or her service whether you know them or not. Let them know you care. *The Purple Heart signifies one thing...SACRIFICE. It represents either a combat death or a combat wound. It represents the blood that has been shed in defense of liberty.