A silent and poignant part of Saturday's Welcome Home was the POW/MIA table. The place setting with an empty chair was another way for the ceremony to honor Vietnam veterans.
Darin Wipperman/Littleton Courier. (click for larger version)
April 09, 2014WHITEFIELD— A hearty welcome home 40 years in the making took place at White Mountains Regional High School on Saturday afternoon. About 300 people, including many elected officials and veterans, attended a salute to Vietnam Veterans.
The bloody and prolonged U.S. war in Vietnam cost nearly 60,000 American lives. Debate over the war produced large divisions in the country. The strong feelings of opposition some held is seen as one reason why those who fought in Vietnam did not receive the heartfelt thanks given to past and current military personnel when they came home.
A proclamation signed by Gov. Maggie Hassan on March 30 was one way to continue the national drive for Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day. She wrote that the soldiers in Vietnam were "caught in the crossfire of public debate" about the war. Hassan also noted how Vietnam vets "have continued to make enormous contributions to our communities."
On Saturday, Hassan was joined on stage by the state's entire Congressional delegation, as well as Major General William Reddell III, Adjutant General of the NH National Guard.
Master of Ceremonies Peter St. James kicked off the event. "We know this means a lot to some of you," St. James declared. "Let me be the first to say 'Welcome Home' to our Vietnam Veterans."
"Every soldier deserves a hero's welcome," he continued. "Now America speaks with one voice," St. James concluded, on the need to honor the valor of those who served in Vietnam.
Before speeches by elected officials and Reddell, the crowd joined WMRHS Junior ROTC members in singing the National Anthem. Ray Goulet, President of the NH Vietnam Veteran State Council, then led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Reddell said the "warrior's ethos" requires him to "never leave a fallen comrade behind." Thus, not only must Vietnam vets be honored for their service, but those with lingering wounds require aid. "That's our job," Reddell informed the crowd, "to find those veterans who might need help."
Hassan said she was honored to see veterans of the Vietnam War "receiving their long overdue welcome home." The governor continued, "Decades ago, when you were asked to serve, you did." She wanted not only to say Welcome Home, but also, "Thank God that you are home."
After Hassan spoke, the crowd heard from all four members of the state's Congressional delegation. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen noted soldiers do not choose which wars to fight. Quoting from former Senator Jim Webb, Shaheen stated that Americans in Vietnam fought with "a tenacity and quality that may never be truly understood."
"You honor us and you honor this country," Shaheen said to the dozens of veterans at the ceremony.
Fellow Senator Kelly Ayotte then said the Welcome Home event is "something you should have had long ago. Frankly," Ayotte said of the nation's delayed thanks, "that was shameful." She continued by thanking Vietnam's veterans "for living such honorable lives."
U.S. Representative Ann McLane Kuster said veterans "are not concerned with praise or recognition." However, the country must never fail to express "our heartfelt gratitude" while we "recommit ourselves to serve all veterans."
Representative Carol Shea-Porter also spoke. She recalled how bitter the national debate was over Vietnam, and how important the Welcome Home ceremonies are for veterans and the country.
Lon Weston, an army veteran who lives in Bethlehem, spent 1970 in Vietnam. He provided a somber but hopeful view of his experience working with veterans who are incarcerated. All people deserve forgiveness, Weston said. He hoped for continued national progress in assistance for veterans "so they can enjoy the freedom that they fought so hard to preserve for us."
The idea of a day to recognize Vietnam veterans began ten years ago when a former combat medic rode his bicycle across the country to build support for the cause. The U.S. Congress declared the Welcome Home day in 2007. The state followed five years later through legislation that makes March 30 Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.
The state intends to continue the Welcome Home ceremonies in other areas of the state. The first such ceremony took place last year in Concord.