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Jon’s Thoughts On Veterans Day And Those Veterans Who Never Got a ‘Welcome Home’

Vietnam Memorial Wall
Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

Tomorrow is Veteran’s Day and we honor those brave men and women who fought and will continue to fight for this country. On this day I always think of my grandfather who was a Marine in WWI, my uncle who served in the Navy and my wife Lisa who served as a nurse and officer in the United States Army. I am so proud of all of you and all of the men and women who have served and continue to serve this great country. Yet, I am troubled by the fact that YouTube is full of videos of returning soldiers who wanted to surprise their friends and families. We have seen huge welcome home celebrations across the country for the last several years which, sadly, was not the case for our troops returning from Vietnam and Southeast Asia in the 1970s, some of which are still lost over there today.

When I was 12 years old, we had a neighbor who fought over there for two years. He was lucky though, because he came home alive and in one piece. When we learned he was coming home, we were excited about welcoming our friend home and looking forward to those street baseball games that he enjoyed with us before being deployed.

The day he came home, his house was surrounded by people who yelled insults to his family, called him despicable names like he was the worst person ever. I remember being very upset, crying and asking my dad why those people were so mad at him. My dad couldn’t really answer that question, he didn’t know how to and yes, tears were rolling down my dad’s face as well.

I just couldn’t understand and still don’t understand why those men and women were never thanked for their service and appreciated for what they were trying to do. We moved away a few years later and I don’t know what ever happened to Darryl. Wherever you are Darryl, please know that day still haunts me. I was proud of you then and I’m still proud of you today…thank you for service.

In the late 80s, I had another encounter with Vietnam Vets that I will never forget. It was during the first Persian Gulf war, Desert Storm and the first of wave troops returning home came in to the Marine Base at El Toro, California. I was working for a country radio station in that part of California and our program director suggested we broadcast live to help welcome the troops home.

I thought that was a great idea and I volunteered to do the broadcast and my program director went along with me. While waiting for their plane to arrive, I looked off to my left and noticed a group of about 100 men on the civilian side of the fence. I walked over and asked them their story.

The leader of the group was wearing an Army Rangers jacket and told me they were Vietnam Veterans who wanted to make sure they were there to welcome the troops home…something that nobody did for them. They weren’t sure if the returning troops would encounter the same negativity that they did….they simply wanted the troops to see some friendly, welcoming faces.

Their story touched me so much I put them on the air and one of the base commanders at El Toro M.C.A.S. happened to be listening. He was a Vietnam Vet himself and made his way to the back gate. After verifying who the men were, he invited them all in to be front and center when the troops arrived.

The plane arrived, stopped at the designated point on the tarmac. The door opened, the contingent of Vietnam Vets sprang to attention in perfect formation and saluted the just returned troops as they exited the plane. It was quite a sight as grown men embraced each other and cried.

To the troops who served in Southeast Asia and Vietnam…..Welcome home and thank you for your service. We owe you a debt we will never be able to repay other than to say thank you and God bless each and every one of you.

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