CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Friends were reunited; stories were told, and memories were honored on a day that many Vietnam veterans never thought they’d see – a day set aside specially for them to be properly welcomed home – almost 40 years later.
“It was hell over there,” James ‘Quincy’ Collins, retired Air Force colonel and former prisoner of war, told the crowd. “And it was even worse when we came home to a nation who didn’t appreciate us or what we did over there. Spending more than seven years as a prisoner of war I truly know what freedom is really about. And today is a day for us.”
The Vietnam Veterans Homecoming Celebration in Charlotte, N.C., drew more than 60,000 veterans, family members and friends to the Charlotte Motor Speedway, March 31. The event was sponsored by the raceway, the N.C. Association of Broadcasters and the USO of North Carolina. According to John Falkenbury, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and president of the USO-North Carolina, the event served three purposes.
“The first, is to celebrate and you’re going to rock and roll this afternoon,” Falkenbury said to the crowd. “Second, it’s about assisting all veterans. We have the Veterans Affairs here and numerous VA non-profits here to help you out. And third is to educate our youngsters. There are Vietnam placards and veterans everywhere – talk to them, learn from history.”
Along with all the vendors lending out a helping hand, the event also hosted entertainers, country music artists, Rockie Lynne and Charlie Daniels, as well as George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelics. There were performances by the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing Band, the 82nd Airborne Division All-American Chorus, the Golden Knights and the Ranger Veterans Parachute Team, while Soldiers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 18th Fires Brigade, 11th Quartermaster Company, showcased modern-day military weapons and equipment in static displays. But for most, the replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall was the highlight of the event.
“He was only 19 years old when he was killed,” explained Mike McCarthy, a Navy veteran. “My big brother was a lance corporal in the Marine Corps and was killed in action, May 16, 1967.”
McCarthy, with his wife, Terrie, posed for a photo while standing in front of the wall memorial holding a photo of his brother, Whilton McCarthy.
“You know, my other brother was a Marine too,” said McCarthy. “My momma got a little nervous and when I said I wanted to join (the military) she told me to go Navy.”
“We also have two babies in the service,” Terrie proudly said. “My daughter is in the Navy and has served three tours to Iraq, and my son is a Marine. It’s absolutely amazing what they’re doing for all of these guys, absolutely amazing.”
For former Sgt. Charles Smith, 25th Signal Brigade, XVIII Airborne Corps, the memorial wall gave him closure and a chance to properly say goodbye to a friend.
“He was a private back then, John Peacock. We went to basic training together. He … he never came back. The last time I saw him was when we were shipped off. It’s an honor to have served with him and others, and an honor to be here with them,” Smith said.