Hundreds of area veterans descended on VFW Bruce Post 1146 in St. Clair Shores Wednesday to enjoy some good food, lively discussions and warm camaraderie.
The celebration was part of the first Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day observance, recently enacted by the U.S. Senate, and set for March 30 to commemorate the day soldiers started returning from the Vietnam War.
Tara Perez, commander of VFW Bruce Post, said she knew that they were going to have a good turnout for the event–but even she was surprised by how many people showed up for the celebration.
“I knew we had a lot of calls and there was a lot of interest but I had no idea this many people would show up,” she said. “Everyone showed up right at 6 p.m., too. It was definitely a surprise.”
Veterans attending the event weren’t just members of VFW Bruce Post. Many came from other area veterans’ organizations throughout Macomb County in an effort to show support to VFW Bruce Post for hosting the open house.
“I’ve talked to a lot of different people from all over the county,” said Vietnam veteran Tim Litz. “I think this is a great way for us to all come together.”
As for the day itself, Litz says the recognition was a long time in the making.
“This is long overdue,” he said. “I think this is something that should have been recognized a long time ago.”
Former Bruce VFW Post Commander Morgan Schmidt agreed.
“I think the turnout is fantastic,” he said. “Not only was this day long overdue, but it serves as a wake-up call for veterans coming home now. Back then, our Vietnam veterans came home amidst a lot of disrespect. I hope we’ve learned our lessons from that.”
As part of the open house celebration, area veterans were invited to attend along with loved ones and other family members. While there, they were offered a complimentary buffet and a chance to indulge in a few drinks and chat with friends.
“I’ve met a lot of great people here,” said Bev Rogers, a resident of Richmond who came down with her husband to the event. “I think the veterans community is very tight-knit, and I like the way everyone came here together. It was really wonderful.”
Rogers said she met the wife of another Vietnam veteran who was attending the event and already made plans to go shopping with her next week.
“I think things like this are important not just for the (veteran) but for families as well,” she said. “This gives the (veterans) a chance to get together and reminisce and talk about things that might be on their mind–but in a nice and relaxed environment.”
For his part, Litz agrees.
“This is something that I’ve been (wanting) for a long time,” he said. “I’m very proud to have fought in the Vietnam War, and I’m very proud that so many people turned out to honor that service here tonight.”
The turnout was so extreme, Perez says she hopes to make this an annual event.
“We got so many people that I think we’re definitely going to have to do this again,” she said. “Maybe next year we can plan it a little better and have it in the bigger hall, though. I really am happy we had such a great turnout, though. It means a lot to a lot of people.”