USA PRIDERecognition of Vietnam vets ‘far overdue’

Published 11:23 pm Saturday, August 18, 2012

In 1971 when Larry Collins returned from two tours of duty in Vietnam, the people of America welcomed him home by threatening to blow up his plane as it arrived in Seattle.

Saturday, more than 40 years since his return, Collins, now 62, and a small crowd of other Vietnam veterans were honored with the full regalia of a downtown parade and welcome-home ceremony.

“It’s far overdue,” Collins said.

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The program was a designed to make up for incidents like the one that happened to Collins, said American Legion Auxiliary president Eva Farish-Ford said.

“They need to feel like they can be proud and have a country they are proud to come back to,” she said.

The crowd at the ceremony was small but seemed enthusiastic about welcoming the men and women who served in Vietnam.

“It’s a shame that more veterans are not here because the Vietnam War had a very large impact on Vicksburg and this land,” said Willie Glasper, commander of songs of American Legion Post 213.

For Willie Patterson, the gesture of extending a welcome to veterans was more important than the size of the crowd.

“I’m proud that I did fight for my country,” said Patterson, now 63. “If I had to do it again I would.”

Patterson’s original homecoming from Vietnam wasn’t much better than the one experienced by Collins and other vets.

“If people recognized you as a Vietnam vet, they would call you a baby killer and a drug addict,” Patterson said. “That hurt me more than the war did in a way.”

During his keynote address, retired Col. Bennie Terrell commended the veterans and their families for making sacrifices during the war.

“Even though some Americans turned their back on you, you never turned your back on America,” Terrell said. “You did your job. You served with honor and you made us proud.”