Amid a conference room in the state Capitol filled with reporters, photographers, legislators and Vietnam veterans, Gov. Jay Inslee last week signed a bill introduced by Rep. Norm Johnson that designates March 30 as “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day” in Washington state.
Johnson, R-Yakima, said more than 1,100 service men and women from Washington died in the Vietnam War, including his cousin from Zillah. He noted that those who survived and returned home were not treated kindly.
“They were called war mongers and baby killers, and were spat upon and scorned. This was possibly the cruelest aspect of the Vietnam War,” said Johnson.
House Bill 1319 does not create a legal holiday, but an annual day of recognition for Washington’s Vietnam veterans, in which all public entities in Washington would be required to fly the National League of Families POW/MIA (prisoner of war/missing in action) flag on March 30. The measure passed both the House and the Senate unanimously.
“All of those veterans are people that we’ve had in our hearts and minds for decades, and now Washington state is officially proclaiming a day of celebration to welcome them home officially,” said Inslee. “It is a day that we hope people will take a moment to think of these men and women who served and didn’t get the warmest welcome in the years that they came back. But now we want to double the warmth of welcoming them and thinking of their contribution to American democracy and freedom across the world.”
Johnson said the measure was suggested to him by the Yakama Warriors Association, which is a group of 190 members who make sure veterans are not forgotten. The association’s representative, Gil Calac of White Swan, is a Vietnam veteran who returned home from the war 43 years ago.
“When I came home, it was just emptiness,” said Calac. “This day of recognition is important for all Vietnam veterans for closure. It was important for them to come home and have someone recognize them. This will help the healing when we all get together and we know that the state of Washington recognized us as Vietnam veterans and gave us a chance to pull together as one.”
Following the bill signing, the House approved House Resolution 4643 and the Senate adopted Senate Resolution 8643, both of which recognize and honor the service of Vietnam veterans.
A ceremony was held after the signings at the Washington State Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the Capitol campus, in which hundreds of veterans gathered and were told, “Welcome home!”
Johnson said the day of recognition and the resolutions are a small way to give back to those who answered the call of service for their country, but were never given a hero’s welcome for their sacrifice.
“We can never totally heal the scars that were left when those boys and girls came home,” said Johnson. “It’s long overdue that we say, ‘Thank you for your service, welcome home and God bless you!’”