Vietnam veterans honored with parade
In 1968, James Hotopp flew from Vietnam to California and was told to immediately shed his Navy uniform for civilian duds.
Still, his buzz cut gave him away — other men his age had shaggy manes — and he recalls the glances and whispers from fellow passengers.
“There was no welcome-home parade, no thank you for your service,” said Hotopp, a Navy machinist who served from 1967 to 1968. “We had a tough time.”
On Saturday, 40 years after the fall of Saigon, veterans of the war received a long-overdue welcome.
Soldiers waved to friends and family, who lined a 2-mile parade route in White Settlement that ended at Veterans Park. Supporters waved American flags and embraced veterans, many of whom wiped tears from their eyes.
Hosted by the Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base and the city of White Settlement, the parade and celebration were part of the “Welcome Home 50th Anniversary Commemoration of the Vietnam War,” a 10-year Department of Defense program to recognize veterans.
During a ceremony, veterans spoke of feeling isolated upon returning home from war and of the guilt they felt for surviving when comrades did not.
“No one called us warriors. No one called as heroes,” said Linda Schwartz, who was an Air Force flight nurse and is now assistant secretary for policy and planning for the U.S. Veterans Administration. “We could not even wear our uniforms on the streets of our own country.”
Soldiers returning from war today face a much different landscape, thanks to Vietnam veterans, said Capt. Gil Miller, the commanding officer at the air station.
“At best, you were treated with apathy. At worst, you endured verbal and physical abuse,” Miller told veterans. “You have helped to ensure that our military sons and daughters do not receive the welcome you did.”
Like many Vietnam veterans, Alan Abramson, who was an Army medic, spoke little of his service when he returned. Yet repeatedly, people asked him two questions: Is it really as bad over there as they say? And did you ever kill anybody?
Wanting only to forget, Abramson found both questions off-putting. Today, he said, he still struggles with what is now called post traumatic stress disorder.
“I don’t like being around people I don’t know. I don’t trust people, and I never believe anything I am told,” said Abramson, who lives in Long Island, N.Y., and attended the celebration with his son, who lives in White Settlement.
“These are all effects of the war, and I work on these issues every single day.”
Saturday’s event provided a measure of comfort, he said. “There is a true awakening of what we went through over there, and that helps.”
When Matias G. Soto, who served in the Army in Vietnam, returned home to San Antonio in 1968, his mother and a brother met him at the airport. It was a small welcome, but he was grateful to be home.
“I came back with everything God gave me,” said Soto, who rode in the parade. “Some did not.”
Holding a ‘Welcome Home’ sign, Soto’s niece, Annie Laque, said she wanted to thank her uncle and all of the veterans.
“They went over there to fight for our freedom and country,” Laque said. “They deserve our respect.”
Watching the supporters, Hotopp, a former Navy machinist who now lives in Crowley, said he has finally begun to feel acceptance for his service. For others, the pain has not subsided.
“After all these years, a lot of guys couldn’t show up today,” he said. “We all have to deal in our own way.”