Welcome Home event honors Vietnam Veterans

Photo by Evan Bevins Vietnam veterans stand and are applauded Friday during the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day event sponsored by Housecalls Hospice in the pavilion at Parkersburg City Park.

PARKERSBURG — Hundreds of veterans and community members of all ages gathered Friday in the Parkersburg City Park pavilion for a celebration of Vietnam Veterans Day.

It’s a far cry from the reception Davisville resident Robert Tabor found when he returned to the United States after serving with the Air Force in Vietnam.

“When I flew in, got off the plane, people were standing there, calling us baby killers, spitting on us,” Tabor said. “When I came back, I was so ashamed that I went to the PX on the base … and bought some civilian clothes” rather than travel in uniform.

But at Friday’s event, Tabor and other Vietnam veterans were the guests of honor. The 249th Army Band played the theme songs of each military branch. Students from Mineral Wells Elementary School chanted “Welcome home,” held up signs they’d made and shook veterans’ hands afterward.

The participation of the children was a highlight for Creston resident Charles White.

Photo by Evan Bevins Belpre resident Pamela Ruble, left, poses for a photo with her father, Charles White of Creston, after reading a poem he wrote at Friday’s Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day celebration at the pavilion in Parkersburg City Park. White wrote the poem in 1966 while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam.

In 1966, he put pen to paper while serving with the Marine Corps in Vietnam to express his frustration over the attitudes of many Americans toward the military at that time. His daughter, Pamela Ruble of Belpre, read that poem at Friday’s event.

“They want to go home, see loved ones and wife,” Ruble read as her father stood beside her, “but they believe in the American way of life.”

Bryan Knight, a major in the U.S. Air Force Reserve and pastor of Pine Grove Baptist Church, served as master of ceremonies. Knight, who joined the military in 1997, said he had the utmost respect for what Vietnam veterans went through, during and after their service.

“I think you were robbed the honor and dignity when you returned from serving your country,” he said.

Speaker Rick Stanley, with the Counseling & Wellness Center, said he served with the Army in South Korea during the Vietnam era but was nevertheless advised not to wear his uniform when he came home. As those who fought World War II are referred to as “the Greatest Generation,” Stanley said he considers those who served during Vietnam “the Resilient Generation” and understands the anger they may still feel.

Photo by Evan Bevins Army veteran Rick Stanley, with the Counseling & Wellness Center, speaks during the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day event Friday at the Parkersburg City Park pavilion.

“You can choose to be bitter and angry and upset,” he said. “But you can also choose to be happy. You can choose to get involved in your community.”

Helping others is beneficial to the one providing the help as well, Stanley said, encouraging fellow veterans to do things like join efforts at their church and support other soldiers as they return home.

West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety Secretary Jeff Sandy, a Wood County resident and former sheriff, thanked Vietnam veterans for their service on behalf of Gov. Jim Justice and the employees of the department’s various agencies.

“We salute you. We enjoy our freedoms because of all our veterans,” Sandy said. “People know throughout the world that if they cause harm to the citizens of our country, we are not going to stand by and take it for granted.”

The event was sponsored by Housecalls Hospice. Volunteer coordinator Sherry Thompson thanked the veterans for what they had done.

Photo by Evan Bevins Students and staff from Mineral Wells Elementary School applaud Vietnam veterans during a Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day event Friday at the pavilion in Parkersburg City Park. The students have learned about Vietnam and wrote letters to veterans ahead of the celebration.

“You were often blamed for a war you didn’t start when you should have been commended for serving your country,” she said.

Also during the event, Jack Martin, with Marine Corps League Detachment 1087 of Wood County, and Paul DeBerry, commander of Disabled American Veterans Chapter 32, were presented with the Legion of Honor Award from the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation. The awards, from a foundation honoring four Army chaplains of different faiths who gave up their lifejackets so other soldiers could safely escape a sinking ship, are given in recognition of a “lifetime of service to people regardless of race or faith.”