Hundreds of veterans and their families gathered in the state Capitol today for a pre-Veterans Day ceremony dubbed “Operation Dust Off.” It was held to honor all veterans, but with a special focus on those who served in Vietnam.
In May of 2012 President Obama announced a 13-year-long commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War that will extend through Veterans' Day in 2025. It was in that context that all the speakers at the state Capitol ceremonies today paid special homage to the Vietnam veterans in attendance.
As most of the speakers did, Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch both welcomed home these veterans but also apologized for the reception many of them received when they returned from a conflict that remains America's most unpopular war.“You have endured sufferings, not only in combat, not only in the loss of your friends, but also when you returned: in the alienation you felt, in the scorn instead of ticker tape parades. But your perseverance and the character you built through it holds the promise of a nation.”
One Vietnam veteran who attended the ceremony says he appreciates that sentiment, but Paul Finch, who served from 1966 to '68, says both the thanks and apology come too late. “Gee, kinda missed it by about 35 or 40 years, maybe, or something like that. I appreciate the gesture, and people do say that, but it, really ... I clung to it for years — the anger and all that — and finally just had let it to go through treatment to go, 'You gotta let this go or it's gonna eat you alive.' So that's where we're at.”
Finch shared his feelings about the late welcome home at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum, where he came after today's ceremony to see the replica of a Vietnam-era helicopter like the one used to evacuate troops wounded in battle.