SHERIDAN — It took a phone call in the middle of the night 20 years after the war to make him realize that he — and the 543,000 other American troops on the ground in Vietnam — had done a good thing serving their country.
They did not do a thing worth being spat at, or a thing worth being cursed at, or a shameful thing.
But they were spat at — in the airport, at the bus station — as they came home and tried to leave Vietnam far behind.
“Because the war was so unpopular at the time, we took our awards, and our medals, and our memories and buried them deep inside our secret trunks,” said Lee Alley, Vietnam veteran and vice chair of the Wyoming Veterans Commission. “We did not tell anybody we had ever been over there.”
Now, nearly 40 years after the war, Alley works to make sure all war veterans receive proper benefits and treatment.
And, a proper welcome home.
Alley will be one of many Wyoming residents standing in a receiving line to shake hands and express his gratitude to Wyoming veterans of all wars at four different Wyoming Veterans Welcome Home Ceremonies to be held around the state Monday.
The ceremony in Sheridan will be held at 8:30 a.m. Monday in the auditorium at the Sheridan VA Medical Center. All veterans of all wars are invited to attend the ceremony in their honor, and members of the public are encouraged to attend to show their gratitude.
Gov. Matt Mead will share remarks and personally shake the hand of each veteran who attends. Maj. Gen. Luke Reiner, Adjutant General of Wyoming, and Wyoming Veterans Commission Chairman Pete Quinnell and Vice Chair Alley will also be guest speakers.
“Honoring those who have served is critical. It shows our pride in America and shows those who are serving now or will serve that we are indebted to them for their sacrifice,” Mead said in a press release. “For those who served and did not come home to a handshake and a supportive nation, it is long past due that we pause, honor you and welcome you home.”
In 2011, during the 61st Wyoming Legislature, Mead signed a proclamation designating March 30 of each year as Wyoming Veterans Welcome Home Day.
Schools, state organizations and communities are encouraged to hold ceremonies and celebrations each year on or near March 30 to honor veterans and properly welcome those from the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Cold War who were overlooked or ridiculed at their homecoming.
According to Larry Barttelbort, of the Wyoming Veterans Commission, March 30 is not a random day on a calendar.
March 29, 1973, was the day the last troops in Vietnam shipped out, meaning they would have set foot in their hometowns March 30.
Advised to change into civilian clothes before disembarking, most would have slipped quietly into the crowd and quietly back into civilian life, trying every day to forget their part in something many Americans hated so much.
“I imagine there’s always been a little part of their mind, and maybe their heart, that says, ‘I just did what I was told, and I was treated like crap,'” Barttelbort said. “This is a push to do something to correct the record, if you will.”
Although focus is given to Korea and Vietnam veterans, all veterans are urged to attend.
“It’s an opportunity for all veterans to get a handshake, a pat on the back and a welcome home,” Barttelbort said.
For more information about Wyoming Veterans Welcome Home Day, call the Wyoming Veterans Commission at (307) 777-8151.