- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 19, 2015

BEDFORD, Ind. (AP) - For 30 years, Hank Marshall would not buy military veteran hats, and he certainly would not say he was a Vietnam War veteran.

The Mitchell native served a combat tour in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot in 1969. He was with the United States Army and returned to Fort Knox after one year in Vietnam.

Many Vietnam veterans were not welcomed home when they returned to the U.S. Some say they were called names, spit upon and worse. Few people thanked them, according to Michael Joseph Conley, who served two tours in Vietnam and also served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was the keynote speaker during a welcome-home ceremony for Lawrence County veterans recently.

“I stayed in the Army,” said Marshall, who lives in Nashville and is the commander for the Vietnam War veterans group in Brown County. “I did not mix with the American public, but I would hear stories and I saw it on TV.”

But the people who served in Vietnam from Lawrence County believed in their nation, said Conley, a native of Huron.

“They were 18 and 19 years old,” Conley said. “Their parents had weathered the Great Depression. Some of their grandparents fought in the First World War - the war to end all wars. I feel sad for the children.”

Those men who served in the Vietnam War were family men who went to church, played basketball and had jobs. So when they returned home to hostility, it wasn’t themselves they were concerned about, Marshall said.

“None of us liked it,” he said. “I think we were more dismayed, disappointed about what was happening to the United States instead of what was happening to us.”

Before they left for the war, they believed in God, believed in unity and believed in the excellence of America. “This was all falling apart,” Marshall said. “Our way of life was disintegrated.”

Marshall said the government treated veterans poorly, and others felt college students were the worst.

“We were called upon by our country, and we went … because of who we are,” Conley said. “Others went to Canada. Others sat on the stairs of our courthouse and called us baby killers.”

When they returned from Vietnam, it wasn’t that different.

Conley said people threw things at them, and they were still called names. “We were not given a hero’s welcome,” Conley said. “It was hard to believe.”

The hero’s welcome came much later.

“After Desert Storm, when the veterans returned from Desert Storm, someone woke up and said ‘Hey, we never thanked our veterans,’” Marshall said. “I first thought ‘Cute. Too little, too late.’ But then I realized they meant it.

“It is wonderful to be recognized now, when we really need it. Many of us can’t hear, some of us are missing limbs, most of us have walking canes. We need this right now, and we’re getting it. We feel very good about it.

“It’s wonderful when people see my hat and say ‘Thank you for your service.’ We didn’t hear that for 30 years. I’m 70; we either get it now or we’re never going to hear it.”

Conley stressed that all Vietnam War veterans should now look to the future instead of holding onto the past.

“We need to forgive,” Conley said. “Yes, let’s forgive the government, the legislators, the uninformed college students who called us names. I live today with love. I’m telling you, the hate’s gone. After 42 years of leading combat, I’m home.

“We need to look ahead.”

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Source: The Herald-Times, https://bit.ly/1L0w2C9

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Information from: The Times-Mail, https://www.tmnews.com

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