Envious Vietnam Vets Won’t Rain On Gulf Parade
Undated (AP) _ The troops who fought the Gulf War will come home to everything Vietnam veterans longed for but never had: endless parades, heartfelt patriotism, a nation puffed with pride.
They will be called heroes, not murderers. They will be honored, not ostracized.
No one knows that better than the more than 3 million veterans of the nation’s most unpopular war. And when the parties begin, no one will be hurting more, or celebrating harder.
″The Saudi soldier’s day in the sun was won, fought for, by the Vietnam veteran,″ said Bob Crankshaw a Vietnam veteran and counselor at Base Camp Inc. in Nashville, Tenn., a private Vietnam veterans center. ″That’s a good feeling for me personally, and for a lot of other guys I’ve talked to.″
The lesson of Vietnam was a simple one, but it was learned at the expense of its veterans, said David Christian of Newtown, Pa., who is one of them: ″Whether you are for the war or against the war, you must be for the warrior.″
″You’re damned right we’re upset we didn’t come back to a parade,″ said Brian Murray of Madison, Wis. ″But we’re not saying, ‘Feel sorry for us.’ We’re saying, ’Don’t do it to these guys.‴
About 3.1 million Americans served in the 10 years of Vietnam. More than 57,000 died. About 3 million veterans of that conflict are alive today. They remember how it was.
Some burned their uniforms but couldn’t hide the emotional scars of war under civilian clothes. They lost jobs, homes, family and friends. They were cursed at, spat upon and heaped with garbage. They learned to walk softly and carry a big hurt, one inflamed in some cases by the perception that Gulf War veterans will be honored in a way they never were.
″We feel very supportive toward the troops,″ said Ron Mooneyhan, an Army veteran who now counsels others in Tampa, Fla. ″But a lot of us would have liked to have been viewed this way - as heroes instead of drug abusers and baby killers.″
President Bush recently thanked the American people for the support they have shown the Gulf troops. ″By God,″ he said, ″we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all.″
It would seem so. Homecoming celebrations are planned from coast to coast for the 537,000 troops, who will take months to return. Vietnam veterans are among the most enthusiastic organizers.
Kris Tourtellotte launched ″Operation Welcome Home″ in Rochester, N.Y., to make sure the Gulf soldiers get a better reception than he did at the Oakland, Calif. airport in 1969.
″There wasn’t anybody there saying, ’Welcome back, you did a good job,‴ he said. ″There were just people yelling at us, ’Baby killers 3/8‴
An American flag flies in front of a Tampa, Fla., veterans’ counseling center, and beneath it a black POW-MIA flag for those who never returned from Vietnam. Inside, those who came home struggle with conflicting emotions.
″Where are our yellow ribbons and our parades?″ asked Emmitt Queen, 43, a Marine machine gunner in Vietnam.
″I saw on a newscast a man saying they were proud of our troops. It was just another kick in the butt,″ said Queen, who wore a Desert Storm T-shirt and capped decorated with the flag and his own purple heart and combat ribbons. ″I was in tears. I just lost it. I was so angry I didn’t know how to unleash it.
″We’re elated the war is over with so few losses and the guys are coming back - that’s great,″ he said. ″But it brings back bitter memories about what we came back to.″
Bob Knestrick, 50, of Cleveland, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam, was a prisoner of war for seven years. ″When I came home,″ he said, ″I was spat upon.″
Larry Weist, a twice-wounded Vietnam veteran who came home in February 1969, recalled being thrown out of a Chinese restaurant where he’d gone to find a phone the day he arrived in Oakland, Calif.
″The owner came running across from the kitchen, yelling ‘No GI 3/8 no GI 3/8’ It’s one of the things I’ll have on my mind when I’m dying,″ said the Salt Lake City resident. ″Welcome home.″
″There was a little resentment, and I was thinking, ’Why didn’t I get this when I came home?‴ said Thomas MacArthur of Saginaw, Mich., an Air Force medic from 1966-1967. ″But you have to get rid of that. Let it go. That’s behind us.″
It was 20 years before someone told him ‘Welcome Home,’ he said.
″And I cried.″