- Associated Press - Monday, May 25, 2015

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — When Adna Chaffee IV returned from his tours of duty in Vietnam, coming home was a low-key affair — and it was planned that way.

Mr. Chaffee recalls landing at a U.S. military base with other soldiers and being quickly whisked to the post-exchange store to buy civilian clothes, then booking a civilian fight or bus ticket home.

“You couldn’t wear the uniform” in public, said Mr. Chaffee, now a Georgia chapter president of the Vietnam Veterans of America.

But he said fresh crew cuts on returning soldiers still made them easy targets for Americans who opposed the Vietnam War and sometimes took out their hostility on service members. “I got spit on. A lot of times I had people come up in my face.”

Now, as Americans mark the 50th anniversary of the divisive Vietnam conflict, Mr. Chaffee and others in southeast Georgia are planning to give fellow Vietnam veterans the kind of homecoming celebration they never had.

On June 19, Vietnam vets and their families are being invited to Fort Stewart for a ceremony at its parade grounds at Cottrell Field. Veterans will ride to the site by bus, passing relatives and supporters cheering them from the roadside. Finally, they’ll line up in formation and march onto the field to more cheers and the waving of flags and signs from the bleachers.

The belated homecoming is patterned after the welcome Fort Stewart troops have received for the past 12 years as units returned from deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Veterans groups have played a large part in celebrating the service of Fort Stewart soldiers, said post spokesman Kevin Larson, and commanders felt they owed Vietnam veterans something in return.

“It’s important that we say ‘welcome home, job well done,’ even if it is some 50 odd years later,”Mr.  Larson said. “It’s incredible, the support they give today’s soldiers. So it’s only fair that we return that sense of honor, that we give it back to them for what they did.”

Mr. Chaffee, a 76-year-old retired Army sergeant major, served during Vietnam in a quartermaster unit that kept soldiers supplied with food, fuel and ammunition. He’s helping Fort Stewart officials organize the homecoming along with Luis Carreras, who flew helicopters in Vietnam and later spent more than 20 years as Fort Stewart’s logistics director.

Mr. Carreras, 73, said he’s trying to spread word of the event to Vietnam veterans across Georgia and in neighboring Florida and South Carolina. He hopes to see a turnout of 300 veterans or more.

“The idea is to celebrate, in a strange way, and to recognize the service of those who served during Vietnam,” Mr. Carreras said. “There was normally no parade or anything like that. It was 180 degrees from what you see now. Those things did not happen for Vietnam.”

Vietnam veterans are observing the war’s 50th anniversary this year because 1965 was the year the U.S. launched offensive ground and air campaigns against the North Vietnamese. During the Vietnam War, Fort Stewart — now the largest Army post east of the Mississippi River — was a training school for helicopter pilots and gunners.

Mr. Chaffee said some Vietnam vets, still bitter about how they were treated during the war, want no part of a belated celebration.

“They’ve still got a bad taste,” Mr. Chaffee said. “But we need it now because there are not going to be very many of us around like the World War I and World War II veterans were. We’re dying too quick.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide