Thursday, March 31, 2011

TOP STORY > >Vietnam vets welcomed home at Little Rock

By Staff Sgt. Nestor Cruz

19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Team Little Rock’s Vietnam veterans were honored during a retreat ceremony Wednesday at the main flagpole in Heritage Park at Little Rock Air Force Base.

The U.S. Senate recently approved Senate Resolution 55, establishing March 30, 2011 as Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day. The date was chosen to honor the day U.S. forces completed their return from Vietnam in 1973.

“Whereas the establishment of a ‘Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day’ would be an appropriate way to honor those members of the United States Armed Forces who served in South Vietnam and throughout Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War ...”according to the resolution.

Col. Mike Pierce, 19th Maintenance Group commander, received the flag during the ceremony on behalf of Little Rock’s Vietnam veterans. During the Vietnam War, then-Airman 1st Class Pierce was a member of the 320th Bombardment Wing.

“The wing was assigned to Guam and ran bombing and tanker operations from there,” he said. Some of these missions were part of Operation Linebacker II.

By November 1973, the wing returned home, not realizing the Vietnam War would soon be over. Colonel Pierce recounted that members from his wing expected to redeploy on another mission elsewhere.

But the return of U.S. forces to American soil wasn’t the warm homecoming they deserved.

Frank Cope, 19th Airlift Wing Sexual Assault Response Coordinator office, returned home from Vietnam sooner than his brothers-in-arms, but remembers the poor treatment of America’s military members.

“I was one of the lucky ones ... I returned from Vietnam in 1970 tobe met on the tarmac by my wife, four-month-old daughter, parents, in-laws and other family and friends,” said Mr. Cope. “Most vets I met were treated very badly as they came home. Many I met later were told to put on civilian clothing and hide the fact they were in the military to prevent harassment in airports.”

Nearly 40 years later, Vietnam veterans finally received the homecoming they deserved.

“It was a great honor [Col. Mike Minihan, 19th Airlift Wing commander] bestowed on me and I greatly appreciate accepting the flag for my comrades-in-arms from that era,” said Colonel Pierce. “Thanks to leaders like Colonel Minihan, every Airman now at Little Rock gets a ‘rock star’ welcome home.”

More than 58,000 U.S. Armed Forces members were killed in action and more than 300,000 were wounded in Vietnam, according to the resolution.

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