About 40 Vietnam War veterans were honored Saturday morning during the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day at the USS Kidd Veterans Memorial & Museum.
The event served as a proper welcome-back ceremony to honor those men and women who served in Vietnam but were not well received when they returned home.
Vietnam veteran Ken Altazan, the keynote speaker for the day, said because the tragedies of the Vietnam War often were misreported and misunderstood, the veterans paid a price.
They were looked down upon when they returned home to a politically divided country. They were, Altazan said, the unpopular veterans.
“For years, we hid as veterans,” said Altazan, 69, a Marine Corps sergeant who served in Vietnam from 1966 to 1970. Quoting former President Richard Nixon, he said, “No event in U.S. history is more misunderstood than the Vietnam War.”
“Vietnam veterans did not get the welcome back they deserved,” said Alejandra “Alex” Juan, executive director of the USS Kidd. “We want to make sure these veterans and their families know we appreciate their service.”
Juan said veterans returning from Vietnam were not embraced and celebrated like the veterans of World War II or the Korean War.
“War is not pretty. They never are,” Altazan said. “We were sent to do a dirty job. … All we have ever asked for is thanks — to heal our wounds, both physical and mental.”
In October, Altazan was awarded a Navy Cross, the second-highest medal the military bestows for extraordinary heroism, second only to the Medal of Honor.
The U.S. Senate passed a resolution in 2011 to provide Vietnam veterans the chance at a proper welcome home, and in 2012, the USS Kidd began its welcome home event. The event is in its fifth year, and the local organization has become an official commemorative partner of the United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration.
The event has grown to host more than 300 people, Juan said, though this year, it was dampened by the rain and coinciding St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
The ceremony began at 11 a.m. with the keynote speaker and a distribution of commemorative Vietnam War pins to veterans in attendance, followed by a reception with food, drinks and music by Quiana Lynell and the Lush Life. Sheet Metal Workers, Local 214, sponsored the event, and a number of veteran and military organizations attended.