Theodore's World: Fort Campbell Welcomes Home Vietnam vets

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August 17, 2009

Fort Campbell Welcomes Home Vietnam vets

Vietnam veterans enter a hangar at Fort Campbell, Ky., during a ceremony welcoming them home Sunday, Aug. 16, 2009. Hundreds of veterans finally got the homecoming they never had when they returned from the Vietnam War decades ago. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Fort Campbell welcomes home Vietnam vets

Tears filled the eyes of some Vietnam veterans who were warmly greeted with cheers from their family and friends Sunday in an re-enactment of their original return from the war, when they were often met with angry demonstrators and harsh headlines.

The ceremony was a first for the and the Army, said Maj. Patrick Seiber, an Army spokesman based at Fort Campbell in Kentucky.
"Our hope is that other units and other posts will follow our lead in having this type of ceremony," he said.

Mickey Leighton, a 72-year-old Army veteran from Naples, Fla., said listening to the applause and praise from the community was very emotional.

Leighton, who started his military career at Fort Campbell in 1956, served two tours in Vietnam including the Tet Offensive. He returned in 1972 in the midst of angry anti-war protests that often placed blame on the individual soldiers.

"We were treated very shabbily," he said. "In some cases they would throw eggs at us, they would throw empty beer bottles at us and they would call us baby-killers."

He said many soldiers would immediately change clothes because they didn't want to wear their uniforms in public in the late 1960s and early '70s while traveling home after returning from war.

"Never in the history of the military have I known of any division or any military installation providing a specific welcome home for Vietnam veterans," Leighton said. "This is very touching."

In contrast, Fort Campbell soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are welcomed back with a ceremony after every deployment, with many completing three or four tours since the wars began.

Army leaders and the community around Fort Campbell collaborated for the Vietnam ceremony, Seiber said. The 101st Airborne Division Association, a group for former soldiers from the division, helped to organize and get the word out.
"I can't think of a better community to do this in than the Fort Campbell community," Seiber said.

Although many veterans had ties to Fort Campbell, the ceremonies included those from almost all the services. Many wore pieces of their old uniforms such as pins, awards and ribbons. Relatives filled the bleachers holding up signs that read "Welcome Home" and "Thank you for your service."

Gene Jones, 67, of Louisville, went to war in 1964 and 1965 with the 101st Airborne. He spent two years in the hospital recovering after he lost his leg in the fighting.

"The American public didn't support the war," he said. "I was there because I thought I was doing the right thing," he said.
"Evidently I was doing the right thing because of the turnout like this. We were long due," he said of the ceremony. "It brings tears to your eyes."

Seiber said he expected more than 1,500 veterans to participate during multiple ceremonies.

Maj. Gen. John F. Campbell, commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division, said the time had come to do the right thing.

"We realize that many of you did not receive the honorable homecoming you deserved as American heroes," Campbell said. "We wanted to make sure that another day doesn't go by when you did not have a proper welcome home."


A long awaited welcome home for veterans of the Vietnam war. Many veterans were not greeted with much fanfare.

In fact, many returned home to angry protesters and treated like they were the enemy.

Edward Fowler served in Vietnam and Desert Storm, he spent more than 20 years in the army.

"When I first come back from Vietnam a 12-year old girl threw feces at me- I couldn't ride a cab I had to put my uniform in the trunk, this was a long time coming."

The special event has been in the works for months- event organizers originally expected about 600 soldiers and their families.

It turned out to be much bigger. Nearly 2,000 soldiers signed up-- Fort Campbell officials added two more ceremonies as attendance soared, so that no soldier would be turned away.

The event had an Evansville connection- David Jones a life-long resident said his wife came up with the idea to honor Vietnam veterans.

Army spokesperson major Patrick Seber said he hopes the event will inspire other units and posts will follow this example and hold similar ceremonies across the country.


Wild Thing's comment.......

I wish that this could make up for the truly shameful way these men were treated, but I think not. But I am VERY grateful what what Fort Campbell has done. God bless them and God bless all our Vietnam Veterans.

Posted by Wild Thing at August 17, 2009 06:55 AM


Thank you Chrissie.

Thank you Kentucky and Ft. Campbell

Posted by: Jack at August 17, 2009 09:20 AM

Wild Thing:
That was a great celebration! I just got home from "Week Of the Eagle" at Ft. Campbell. Because I was not a 'NamVet, I was not a part of the service, and because I had not registered early enough, I was not able to be a greeter either. From afar, I could see the masses and hear the cheers and such. I was blessed with doing my service "between the wars"; not of my design, but the way it was.
An aside- If anyone wonders whether or not we have the best damned military on the planet; I suggest a trip to Ft. Campbell to see my 101st Airborne Division (AASLT), at work. These soldiers are every bit as good as those of days past and have the added kick of the latest in high tech weaponry.
The only downside to the above is that we are without a strong Commander-in-Chief.
Thanks for the post
nuf sed

Posted by: Frankly Opinionated at August 17, 2009 09:35 AM

Finally, after 40 years. Thank you Ft Campbell and the 101st Airborne.

Hopefully no returning soldier will ever be treated with disdain and cruelty again. Perhaps for that reason alone our sour homecoming in the 60's/70's was worth something.

I am very glad for the greeters now that meet the planeloads of returning soldiers and the PGR riders that escort both departing and returning units of warriors.

Thanks for this story Chrissie.

Posted by: TomR at August 17, 2009 11:55 AM

This is a great story and long over due. But I can't help but think and ask, " What took you so long to realize this and what the homecoming was like in the 60-70's".

I am greatfull for what they are trying to do but at the same time I am still bitter over the way we were treated. Maybe its just me.

Posted by: Mark at August 17, 2009 12:27 PM

Jack, it really is special what they did.
I am so glad.

Posted by: Wild Thing at August 17, 2009 11:31 PM

Frankly, Hi good to see you. Thank you
for shairng about being there, how a person
needed to be registered etc. that is
interesting how they had it organized like
that.The article didn't have all that in it.
I agree there is no CIC right now.

Thank you Frankly for stopping by and
for serving our country.

Posted by: Wild Thing at August 17, 2009 11:36 PM

Tom, I hope and pray the same thing.
What happened before may it never
happen again.

Posted by: Wild Thing at August 17, 2009 11:38 PM

Mark, I understand, it is wonderful and
it is only natural to also feel like
why did it take so long. It does not
take away from how awesome this was
for them to do.

Posted by: Wild Thing at August 17, 2009 11:42 PM

Too bad the guys that came back to that disgraceful behavior, but are no longer with us didn't get to see and be part of those ceremonies. I THANK THEM EVERYDAY. I have always loved that Dave Mann 'Reflection At The Wall' art.... Thanks Chrissie

Posted by: pontiff alex at August 18, 2009 12:14 PM