Vandergrift VFW hosts ‘Welcome Home’ toast to Vietnam-era veterans
They’re aging now. Mostly retired, graying or bald.
When they were young, they were drafted or enlisted into military service during the tumultuous time that was the Vietnam War era.
They’ve been home for more than 40 years, but most weren’t given a proper welcome when they returned from serving in Vietnam.
That changed for some of them Saturday, when members of the Sgt. Leonard C. Kinkead VFW Post 566 in Vandergrift hosted a “Welcome Home” party for them.
Because of the political turmoil during the Vietnam era, “no veteran during that time-frame was respected at all by the public. They all came home to indifference, at best,” post Cmdr. Carl Trusiak said.
“I just felt we needed to do a welcome home for any Vietnam-era veteran and do something special,” Trusiak said. “And make them feel special as they always should have been.”
Vietnam-era veterans were treated to a drink on the house, ham barbecue sandwiches, gelatin salads molded into American flags and a “Welcome Home” cake.
Trusiak also found the Vietnam-themed movies “Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam” and “To Heal A Nation” to play during the lunch.
“They served with honor,” Trusiak, who served in the Cold War era, said of Vietnam veterans. “To all Vietnam veterans, today and every day … thank you for your service, and welcome home.”
Some of the veterans who came out hadn’t served in Vietnam but wanted to show their support for those who did.
They’re guys like Chuck Schohn, 79, of Lower Burrell.
Schohn is a Vietnam-era veteran who served stateside from 1958 to 1961 in the Army.
“I just figured I’d come here to welcome people back,” Schohn said.
The people he greeted included Lee Rainey, 71, of Parks Township, a past commander of the post who served as a Marine in 1968 during the Tet Offensive.
“We never were really thanked for anything,” Rainey remembered about returning home.
Because of that, in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War in 1991, Rainey wrote then-President George H.W. Bush a letter highlighting how Vietnam-era veterans were neglected.
Bush responded with a letter thanking Rainey and telling him that all Vietnam veterans were heroes, Rainey said.
“It’s great,” Joe Cader, 69, also of Parks Township, said of the lunch.
When he returned home, he was never told anything good about his service, Cader said.
The event is part of the Vandergrift post’s resurgence, Trusiak said.
The VFW faced financial woes in 2017 and was in danger of closing, but Trusiak has led a comeback for the post, which has 164 members, and is moving forward with plans for more events.
Tom Davidson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tom at 724-226-4715, [email protected] or via Twitter .