A Vietnam veteran once said to a fellow veteran I know: Yes it is way, way late. Maybe too late to be welcomed home...but it is never too late to say to a veteran, thank you for your service.
Friday April 30th will mark the 35th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War.
I served in the United States Army from 1955 to 1969, with service in the Intelligence Corps in Danang Vietnam.
It's been 35 years and every year since I've returned I've met veterans who had returned home but have never really "come home."
Just over ten years ago, the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, Wisconsin Public Television and the Wisconsin Historical Society started interviewing hundreds of Wisconsin veterans of WWII and Korea. The interviews have been collected in a series of books and television shows, Wisconsin WWII War Stories and Wisconsin Korean War Stories.
Now, over last two years, they've done the same for Vietnam in Wisconsin Vietnam War Stories.
There's a remarkable contrast in the stories. During the interviews with Vietnam veterans, the television producers saw and heard a distinctly different message and tone from the WWII veterans and, to a degree, from the Korean War veterans. It was the fact that few had ever been thanked and none had experienced the welcome home parades for the WWII veterans, nor even the few "thank you's" heard by the Korean veterans.
Together with those veterans, it was decided to make a special effort to do more than just present their stories in video and writing. We decided to welcome home veterans at a major screening, a public event so all of Wisconsin's citizens would have an opportunity to learn more about the Vietnam War and to extend their thanks to the veterans.
What started off as a screening has become a much larger event. LZ Lambeau: Welcoming Home Wisconsin's Vietnam Veterans will be a public tribute to the thousands of veterans who came home as well as a memorial to the lives of those who did not. As a state, as neighbors and as friends and family, we are saying thank you.
The response, from around the state and the country, has been remarkable. Over 25,000 Vietnam veterans and their families are expected to attend the major evening event and screening on May 22 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., including Vietnam veterans from 27 states.
One of the most special responses has been from veterans of the First Gulf War, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Many have come forward to volunteer at LZ Lambeau, telling us that they deeply appreciate the send-offs and welcome-homes they have received because Vietnam veterans have collectively said never again will men and women who fight our wars be treated as we were treated.
As a veteran who came home from Vietnam in 1969, I say thank you everyday to those who fought with me. This Friday, I will say thank you to those who did not come back as we contemplate the Vietnam War on the 35th anniversary of its end. I will also remember those who remain Missing In Action and for whom we will never stop searching.
And each day, I say thank you to those young men and women who continue to take up arms on behalf of their fellow citizens and I welcome them to join us at LZ Lambeau this May.