Vietnam Vets Lobby for a Day of Honor
Some Vietnam War veterans are fighting for a day of their own.
They have persuaded several state legislatures and dozens of cities to designate Vietnam Veterans Day and are lobbying others for a symbol of the gratitude and respect they believe they were denied when they came home from an unpopular war.
"We served with honor and we want people to know that," says Bill Albracht, 61, secretary of the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) chapter in the Quad Cities area of Iowa and Illinois. "We were ridiculed and defamed . . . and we took it. Now we're trying to set the record straight."
The U.S. honors all of its war veterans on Nov. 11. Several area cities passed proclamations making March 30 Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day, and on Tuesday, Albracht will ask the Rock Island County (Ill.) Board for support.
Some advocates say the last U.S. troops left Vietnam on March 30, 1973; others say the correct date is March 29 and support recognizing Vietnam War veterans on that day. Neither group is seeking a national holiday that gives federal workers the day off.
"People really just want some recognition," says John Rowan, national VVA president.
In September, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation making March 30 Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.
"They're still a lost generation out there in many ways," says Assemblyman Paul Cook, a Republican and Vietnam War veteran.
Jose Ramos, 60, a Vietnam veteran in Whittier, Calif., helped lead the effort in his state. Working for appreciation for vets helps him cope with the war's still-vivid scars, he says. "I'm really proud, but my nightmares are my nightmares," he says.
Dann Dunham, 60, a Vietnam veteran in Crossville, Tenn., who organizes efforts to commemorate Vietnam War vets on March 29, says at least eight states have passed proclamations and there are active campaigns in others.
Veterans in Ohio are working for passage of legislation there. "It doesn't cost anything, it's so simple - how could anyone be against it?" says Paul Hauke, 61, a Vietnam War veteran from Sandusky, Ohio. He will be in Columbus this week to make the case.
Donald Lanthorn, with the Ohio American Legion, testified in a legislative committee against the proposed March 29 holiday there, in part because William Calley, the Army officer who led the 1968 My Lai massacre in Vietnam, was convicted on that date in 1971.
"We're not convinced," Lanthorn says, that a separate day of recognition for Vietnam War vets is needed, but "we're not attempting to demean their service."
Diane Finnemann will mark the third Vietnam veterans observance next month in Minnesota, where her lobbying helped win passage in 2008. Her brother Wallace Schmidt, a Vietnam War vet who had post-traumatic stress disorder, committed suicide in 1972.
"I feel," she says, "as though I have extended my brother's life's work."