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Fifty Years Later, Warm Welcome for Vietnam Vets

By JOHN FIORE | Nov 14, 2018
Courtesy of: John Fiore The author relaxes with pups on the sandbagged roof of an underground bunker at base camp in Pleiku, Vietnam in 1968.

Dear Family and Friends:

I wanted to let you know how much it meant to me to have my “family and friends” send cards during my Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C., on Oct. 4.

My dear friend Gary B., a former mattress buyer at Abraham & Straus, flew up from Key Largo to be my sponsor at this event and during this day. About 90 fellow Vietnam vets were treated to a very special day, which started at Williamstown High School in South Jersey around 6:30 a.m.

After a nice breakfast and a few short speeches by members of the Honor Flight staff (most of these trips require flights to D.C., hence the name), we left the cafeteria for the buses. To our surprise there were over 500 students and even the Philly Fanatic in the hallways at 7:30 a.m., cheering and thanking us for our service. The cheerleaders and band were at curbside, giving all of us a grand sendoff.

Once on the roadway we had police escorts with lights and sirens blaring. All traffic was held at intersections to give a smooth start to our trip. At several intersections fire trucks with aerial ladders arched over the roadway had Old Glory waving above our buses while we passed under. When we got to the turnpike the state police took over and led the way to the Delaware Memorial Bridge.

From there we traveled down Interstate 95, unescorted until we got to the Baltimore Washington Parkway. At that point the National Park Police took over and gave us an escort with sirens and lights all the way into D.C. They stayed with us the entire day as we visited several memorials, including the Vietnam Wall, and museums throughout the city. They then led us back out of town to Baltimore, and we were on our way back to New Jersey.

During this part of the trip one of the group leaders asked what we really wanted or missed most while we were in Vietnam. After many of these 65- to 85-year-old buzzards stopped yelling “women” (some things never change!) someone in the back of the bus said “mail from home.” We each then got a large envelope filled with thoughtful cards, letters and drawings from home. It was such a moving part of the day I still had tears in my eyes by the time we arrived back at the high school.

What I didn’t notice once we hit Glassboro was once again we had a police escort with both fire and EMS vehicles added to the procession. As we pulled into the school parking lot the band played many patriotic songs and of course our national anthem. Need I add, not one person was kneeling! When we left the buses at 8:30 p.m. again over 500 students welcomed us home, many with their parents and siblings. I was now on my second handkerchief.

“Welcome Home” were not the words we heard most often when we returned from Vietnam. So this experience gave me hope, as the young adults I met that day are the future of our great country.

The Honor Flight Network is a wonderful organization that has very dedicated individuals who manage each of these trips. This was the 11th year that Williamstown High School students and staff hosted both spring and fall trips.

For this Veterans Day, on Sunday, I want to say thank you to Honor Flight of South Jersey, and to the Williamstown High School teachers, staff, administrators and especially its students for making two simple words so special: “Welcome Home.”

John Fiore of Brant Beach, specialist 5 in the Army’s 4th Infantry Division, served in Pleiku, Vietnam from 1968 to 1969.

 

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