Hundreds of Veterans, current servicemembers and local citizens converged here March 28 for the annual Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Ceremony.
The event, which began with a motorcycle ride of Veterans and supporters from Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, culminated with a trip through the fort’s housing area and tribute to America’s Veterans at the Fort Irwin Town Center.
“Today a grateful nation welcomes home its sons and daughters and recognizes their faithful and honorable service in Vietnam,” said Maj. Gen. Ted Martin, National Training Center commanding general, as he looked out over the crowd. “We honor you, the brave men and women gathered here today who served your country with honor and courage – you set a shining example for the men and women of the armed forces who, even today, are fighting for their country in Afghanistan.”
Guest speaker for the event William Gang, civilian aide to the secretary of the Army and a decorated Vietnam vet himself, highlighted the need for the nation to continue to honor those who have served.
“I remember several months ago I was in the Atlanta airport waiting on a flight to South Africa on business and a group of our Soldiers got off the aircraft,” said Gang. “They were walking through the waiting area for on-loading passengers – the Soldiers were wearing their BDU’s (Battle Dress Uniforms), about a dozen or so of them – and all of the people in the waiting area stood and gave them a round of applause, including me. I remember thinking at the time that this was a little different then when we came home, and that’s the reason why we continue to have ceremonies like this today, to remind us Vietnam Veterans are not forgotten.”
As Gang spoke, Veterans of all ages and backgrounds looked on – many wearing patches, pins, hats and vests that signified their dates of service, the war they fought in and units assigned.
“I’ve been attending these events ever since they began,” said 65-year-old Veteran Richard Veloz, who served as a Marine in Vietnam in 1969-70. “It brings back memories for me of my younger years, plus I get to enjoy camaraderie with other Veterans and share war stories.
“It’s like therapy for me too,” Veloz continued, admitting he’s a bit introverted since his time in Vietnam. “It makes me feel good because sometimes I feel guilty that I came back alive and well. Most times I don’t talk much, but at ceremonies like this I’m able to open up.”
Now living in Hesperia, Veloz said the tribute helps him “fill in the blanks” regarding the past and his service.
“I’m grateful to Fort Irwin for holding this ceremony every year,” he said.