Last Saturday, I attended and spoke at a celebration called “A Salute to Vietnam Veterans” at the Dewey Loman American Legion Unit 109 in Halethorpe. Maryland. It was sponsored by the Legion Auxiliary of the post. I came away deeply moved.
Throughout the first part of the event and while we ate lunch, the Maryland Military Band played patriotic music and medleys of tunes popular during our wars, particularly World Wars I and II. The music, to my surprise, sparked strong emotions in me.
As the meal finished, the post commander and post president spoke briefly. Then it was my turn. I was there to tell my story about the fall of Saigon.
With my emotions already unleashed, I found tears in my eyes as I told of Bob and Gary, the two men who volunteered to risk their lives and stay with me to the end as Saigon fell. When I spoke of the South Vietnamese officer who shot his children, his wife, and himself rather than live under the communists, my voice cracked. At the end of the presentation, I told of the unknown danger that Bob and Gary and I faced—a North Vietnamese regiment that was preparing to attack us but was delayed by the collapse of bridge. We choppered out at the end never knowing how close we came to capture or death. My voice went raw as I told of our escape under fire.
As I spoke, I scanned the faces in the audience, well over a hundred veterans and their wives. Every eye was on me. I saw no movement. When I paused to take a breath, I heard nothing. The people in the room were with me.
When I finished my story, I got a standing ovation. An endless line of people came up to thank me. I then helped distribute the Vietnam War Commemoration pins to some fifty Vietnam veterans present. To each one, I said the words I had so longed to hear—and never did—when I came home from Vietnam a sick and broken man after the fall of Saigon: “Thank you for your service. And welcome home, brother.”