A homecoming well deserved

Steve Ranson went on last weekend’s Honor Flight and returned home Sunday afternoon. More coverage will be in future pages of the Appeal.

Day 3, Reno — A homecoming on the day after Veterans Day would have been unimaginable more than 40 years ago.

When 50 Vietnam War vets deplaned at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport Sunday afternoon, applauding passengers waiting for their flights welcomed them home with clapping and cheering.

Three drummers from Damonte Ranch High School positioned themselves, and when the veterans and their guardians lined up, they followed the measured beat of the drummers and two Civil Air Patrol cadets holding a large United States flag.

To their amazement, once they arrived at the airport’s main floor, their weekend to the nation’s capital to see war memorials and monuments built in honor of the American fighting man sunk in. Airport officials estimated about 600 people jammed the airport, many of them pressed against a rope holding signs of “Welcome Home” or “We Love You” or “Thank you for your service” and miniature American flags.

This homecoming has played out before for Honor Flight Nevada Vietnam War vets. From the very first flight for Vietnam War and Vietnam-era vets more than two years ago to Sunday, most, if not all, never expected such a heart-warming sight. Children, adults … there may have not been a dry eye or that lump-in-the-throat feeling from their friends, loved ones and total strangers.

Vietnam is, by all means, not the forgotten war like Korea, or for that matter, World War I. Lately, Ken Burns’ documentary on the Vietnam War detailed the war and the moving mechanisms behind the fighting in Indochina and the decisions made at higher levels in Washington, D.C. Many vets on this trip said they were impressed by the documentary’s details and how it gave a better “light” to the 3 million plus service men and women who fought this war.

Over the course of my professional journalism career, I have interviewed scores of veterans, and since 2015, I have begun to chronicle more stories coming out of the Vietnam era years. Even to this day, Vietnam veterans still feel the pain of serving there, and the Take Me Home Huey project that visited Carson City and sponsored by the local Vietnam Veterans Association in late September is trying to help as many veterans as possible cope from the feelings they still hold.

As expressed by many veterans on this weekend’s Honor Flight, when they returned home from their service in Vietnam, they never expected the insults hurled toward them, the spitting and the silence. Many had volunteered for military service, while others reported to duty after being drafted. At the time, they felt they were doing the right thing.

“Why are they protesting us and not the government,” said one vet on this weekend’s Honor Flight. Another said the stigma remained with him for years, and this former Army soldier did not offer information to those he met later in life that he served in Vietnam. Burns’ documentary, like many made before his, doesn’t depict war as a rosy situation comedy show or a nice walk in the park on a Sunday afternoon. War is horrifying, war is devastating … both physically and mentally.

Sunday, though, at the Reno airport was for them, and the three World War II and one Korean War vet who also traveled on this flight. This is the homecoming they should have had decades ago like many of the Desert Storm veterans received when they returned to their hometowns. This is the homecoming they should have received when many soldiers, sailors, airmen and women and Marines received from serving in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

As a retired editor and former military journalist, I experienced a very emotional weekend talking to many Vietnam War veterans as I accompanied them to Washington, D.C. I also wiped away tears Sunday afternoon because it was their day – their homecoming — the one they had expected decades ago.

Welcome home, my brothers and sisters. Welcome home.


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