Wednesday, 24 April 2024

Vets prepare to mark 'Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day' Sunday

Dean Gotham, president of the local Vietnam Veterans of America chapter, braved the gloomy Friday weather to sell clovers commemorating MIAs, POWs and victims of Agent Orange. Vietnam veterans locally also will mark the first Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day on Sunday, March 30. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.


LAKE COUNTY – It's been decades since Vietnam veterans made their way home from the war, only to meet – in the worst cases – outright abuse, or disapproval and lack of acceptance because they had been sent to fight in an unpopular war.

Now, however, thanks to the growing appreciation for their sacrifices, Vietnam veterans are poised to celebrate their first national day of remembrance.

On Sunday, the first “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day” in the United States will be commemorated.

It's been a long time in coming – 35 years, to be exact.

March 30 was chosen because it was on that date in 1973 that US Armed Forces completed withdrawal of combat troops from Vietnam.

US involvement in Vietnam began in an advisory capacity in 1961, with troops arriving in 1965, in an effort to prevent Communism spreading across the rest of Southeast Asia.

In all, more than 58,000 US Armed Forces members died in the war, with another 300,000 returning home wounded, according to federal records.

The “Welcome Home” day received federal approval last year. That followed years of lobbying by Whittier resident and Vietnam veteran José G. Ramos, who founded the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day effort in 2000, according to

On Feb. 16, 2007, California Congresswoman Linda T. Sanchez introduced House Resolution 189, “Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that a 'Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day' should be established,” according to congressional records. Sanchez was joined by 54 co-sponsors on the bill.

The bill passed on a 381-0 vote on June 25, 2007, according to House voting records. North Coast Congressman Mike Thompson, a Vietnam vet, was among those casting votes in favor of the resolution.

Next, on Aug. 1, 2007, California Sen. Barbara Boxer introduced the Senate version of the bill, Senate Resolution 289. The Senate passed the resolution unanimously on Nov. 8, 2007.

Both resolutions noted: “... Members of the United States Armed Forces who served bravely and faithfully for the United States during the Vietnam War were caught upon their return home in the crossfire of public debate about the involvement of the United States in the Vietnam War ...”

On his Web site Ramos reported that the bill was sent to President George W. Bush, with the request that he sign it and make it a national holiday. The bill didn't receive the president's signature, despite efforts by Ramos and others to get him to do so.

Veterans honored locally

Local veterans are joining their fellow soldiers across the nation in marking the day by their own kinds of activism and outreach.

This year, there aren't any organized local events planned for the Vietnam veterans commemoration, said Dean Gotham, president of the county's Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 951.

Instead, groups like his are focusing on outreach to the community and education about veterans issues.

On Friday, Gotham braved the cold, rainy weather to stand outside Bruno's Shop Smart to offer clovers – orange for Agent Orange victims and black for POW/MIAs – as part of a fundraiser for the group.

“I'm shocked at how well it's going,” said Gotham.

He added that it's the first time the commemorative clovers – similar to the “Buddy Poppies” sold on Veterans Day and Memorial Day – have been offered locally, or possibly even in the state. “We may be breaking new ground.”

Agent Orange refers to the herbicide dumped on Vietnam in an effort to defoliate jungles. Use of the chemical – millions of gallons of it were dumped on the country – had huge impacts on soldiers and civilians, both American and Vietnamese, who were exposed to it. Numerous health issues, from dozens of forms of cancer to birth defects, have been attributed to it.

The black clovers Gotham handed out to donors were a reminder of the soldiers still missing and unaccounted for in Vietnam. The National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia reports there are 1,763 US soldiers who have never returned from the Vietnam War.

There are a total of 8,000 veterans in Lake County, said Gotham, based on information he's received from the county's Veterans Services Office. Of that number, Gotham estimated that “a good chunk” are Vietnam vets.

In addition to Bruno's, clovers also will be available for donation this weekend at Konocti Vista Casino, K-Mart, Sentry Market and Lakeport's Safeway, according to Gotham.

All the proceeds will benefit Chapter 951's outreach programs – everything from emergency financial and housing assistance, to providing help with benefits and rides to medical appointments.

For the last two Christmases, the chapter also has extended its efforts to include seniors at area convalescent homes in its “Seniors Not Forgotten” program, in addition to providing memorial scholarships, a Christmas Fund and sponsorship for Little League teams, the chapter reported.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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