By Kristen Miller
VETERANS EVERYWHERE, USA Today, communities embrace soldiers returning home from war with reverence for serving their country. This, however, was not the case for Vietnam veterans.
“We weren’t welcomed home,” said Harvey Mauk, an Army veteran from Howard Lake who was drafted in 1966, and served two years in Vietnam.
With Vietnam being an unpopular war, protestors against the war would spit at returning veterans and call them baby killers, Mauk explained.
“If you were a Vietnam veteran, you weren’t nothing,” he said.
Steve Keith of Cokato was a Marine and served in Vietnam from March 1969 to April 1970.
He, too, knows what it was like coming home.
“Being in the military (during the Vietnam era) made you a target of being a part of the system (government),” Keith said.
“We were seen as promoting the war,” Keith said, “and we weren’t. We were just doing our job,” he said.
Gene Lorentz of Howard Lake served in the Marines, and was in Vietnam from 1965 through 1966.
Upon returning, Lorentz remembered being spit on and given the finger.
“None of us were there because we wanted to be,” Lorentz said, who joined the military to fulfill a military obligation he felt he had.
Unlike veterans today, Lorentz agrees with his comrades that the Vietnam era veterans weren’t given credit for what they did.
In 2005, Holt Tour and Charter organized a trip to Branson, MO, where a busload of Vietnam era veterans would get a “welcome home,” 40 years overdue.
The week-long celebration was called “Operation Homecoming USA,” and included such things as a parade, concerts, a traveling Vietnam memorial wall, rides on a Vietnam helicopter, and much more.
“Oh, they treated you like a king,” said Mauk, who went on the trip with his wife, Linda.
“Strangers you’ve never seen thanked you for serving the country,” he said.
The trip to Branson stirred up a lot of emotion, as well, said Keith.
“Veterans had been hiding a lot of their emotions,” he said. “It was a release for many.”
Because of the stigma Vietnam carried with it, emotions for veterans were two-fold.
Many veterans didn’t want to talk about their experiences because they didn’t feel respected coming home and also because war is personal, Keith explained.
“War is war,” he said. “Only people there can truly understand.”
A war’s effect is being seen now with veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
“They come back with issues because it does forever change you,” Keith said.
Because of the treatment Vietnam era veterans endured, Keith senses people are more caring today and open to people serving in the military.
“The Vietnam era opened up people’s eyes and 9/11 realizing that veterans were just doing a job,” Keith said.
“I’m proud for myself and other veterans who have done the same,” he said about serving.
This past July, Minnesota honored its Vietnam era veterans at the state capitol, which was also a reunion for those who attended the Branson trip four years earlier.
Lorentz, Keith, and Mauk were among the 50 area veterans and family members who participated in Minnesota Honors Vietnam Veterans Era Celebration.
The event included a parade of colors, special speakers, several fly-overs of military air craft, and much more.
A highlight for Lorentz was meeting Governor Tim Pawlenty as he walked off the stage after speaking to the crowd.
“It was fantastic,” Lorentz commented of the entire event dedicated to men and women like him.