Author Melodee Mercer greets a Vietnam Veteran.
I’ve attended Veterans Day celebrations since I was 10 years old. My Dad was a WWII Veteran, my Mom and I sang in USO shows at the hospital beds of Vietnam Veterans, and I marched in Veterans parades long before I became a VA employee. I’ve heard the speeches and seen the faces. But, this Veterans Day, I learned a whole new lesson: It is never too late to say, “Welcome Home.”
As part of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, the Philadelphia VA Regional Office and VA’s Insurance Center felt it was important to do their part in welcoming home all of our Vietnam Veterans, so they partnered with the Commemorative Partner Program, which was created by Congress for federal, state and local communities to thank and honor our Vietnam Veterans.
More than nine million men and women heeded their country’s call during the Vietnam era. Many served in-country while others served overseas. But no matter where they served, most felt that they were never welcomed home and that their country never appreciated their service. Many told stories of how, when they returned home, they removed their uniforms — even throwing them away — to save themselves and their families from humiliation.
More than 300 Vietnam Veterans with similar stories visited the Philadelphia Vietnam Veterans Memorial (PVVM) on Veterans Day for a wreath laying ceremony and special Welcome Home Commemoration.
VA Insurance Center Director, Vince Markey, and retired VA Employee Dennis Best.
The memorial was chosen for this first ceremony because there is an historic connection between the PVVM and VA. Twenty-seven years ago, a group of 10 men, including two VA employees, started the Philadelphia memorial by going to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial — the Wall — in Washington, D.C., to trace the names of 646 Philadelphians and then walked back with the tracings. One of those now retired employees was Dennis Best, who VA Insurance director Vince Markey presented with the first commemorative pin of the day.
“A very special pin has been created to commemorate this event,” Markey explained to the gathered crowd. “It is a small but powerful token of appreciation to acknowledge your service and your sacrifice. For this reason, one of our VA leaders will personally present the pin to each Vietnam Veteran here today.”
“’Welcome Home.’ That was the first time I heard those words. You don’t know how much that meant to me.”
Some may ask if “Welcome home” events like this make a difference after 50 years? Vietnam Veteran George Louis Perez answered that question.
“’Welcome Home.’ That was the first time I heard those words. You don’t know how much that meant to me,” Perez shared.