PALMDALE, Calif. — The morning of March 19, 2022, a decade and a half after cities and communities of the Aerospace Valley joined to throw a long overdue welcome home parade for Vietnam War veterans, a crowd estimated at 500 showed up around Poncitlan Square Gazebo for ceremonies to reaffirm that gratitude.
Organized regionally by the Antelope Valley WellBeing Coalition, the 2022 Welcome Home Ceremony for Vietnam Veterans was timed to coincide with the National Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017, signed into law by President Donald Trump. March 29 was designated as Vietnam War Veterans Day because it was on that date in 1973 that the last group of combat troops departed Vietnam, and Hanoi was releasing American prisoners of war.
In a 2012 Proclamation, President Barak Obama wrote, “In one of the war’s most profound tragedies, many of these men and women came home to be shunned or neglected ñ to face treatment unbefitting their courage and a welcome unworthy of their example. We must never let this happen again.”
Congressman and decorated Iraq War veteran Navy fighter pilot Mike Garcia, told the Palmdale audience, “This is the best thing and best city to honor our veterans.” He added, “As painful as that war was, we learned from the Vietnam War.” Citing “the stark contrast he and his brothers and sisters in arm experienced in returning from the war in Iraq, Garcia said America changed for the better, not only in appreciating its warriors, but in paying attention to what is going on here and understanding “there are all kinds of things that can divide us, but (in matters of national defense) we are indivisible.”
Remarking on the potential for world war created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Garcia said the experience in Vietnam taught America some of the most important lessons about when to go to war, and when not to go to war; how to hold elected officials responsible and accountable for their actions; requiring public consensus, an exit strategy and support of the American people.
Although disagreements remain between some veterans’ groups about how to classify veteran service during the Vietnam war, Stacia Nemeth, treasurer of Point Man Antelope Valley Ministry, said such distinctions don’t exist locally in programs to help and serve all US military veterans. Statistically, in-country Army soldiers represented the largest numerical force with the highest number of killed and wounded.
However, the numerically far smaller contingent of US Marine Corps troops suffered the highest percentage of total force killed and wounded — 5.5 percent.
Although American troops and advisers were on the ground in South Vietnam in the early to mid-1950s. the official start of troop deployment was pegged as March 8, 1965, when combat forces arrived on the beaches of Da Nang. Based in Okinawa, Japan, at the time, 3,500 Marines of the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade were deployed to Da Nang to protect the U.S. airbase from Viet Cong attacks.
Among those attending the Welcome Home Ceremony for Vietnam Veterans in Palmdale was Ida Ketchem, one the organizers of the first such tributes, which included a full parade down Lancaster Boulevard, special programs, banquets and a tribute to the Navajo Wind Talkers of World War II fame in the Pacific.
Lisa Sarno explained that the AV WellBeing Coalition, including the cities of Palmdale and Lancaster, is intended to help neighbors thrive and spread good will, optimizing health and happiness.” Palmdale Mayor Steve Hoffbauer spoke briefly in representing his city. Lancaster did not send a representative, although city council candidate David Paul was acknowledge as attending.
At the close of the program, attending Vietnam Veterans, expected to number more than 80, were each presented with a commemorative lapel pin created for this Welcome Home Ceremony, and distributed to them by Veteran Alejandro Castillo.
The 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. event included a car show, food trucks, classic 1960’s rock ‘n roll music, and volunteers wearing the colorful tie-dyed T-shirts common to the era.
Co-emcees were Cold War Army Veteran and Veterans Advocate Dennis Anderson and Michael Bertell, Vietnam War veteran. Dr. Woodrow “Anthony” Roeback III delivered the opening devotional, and the Quartz Hill Young Marines presented the Colors in conjunction with singing of the National Anthem by the Palmdale High School Choir.