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Vietnam vets invited to welcome home luncheon

By ROSS FLINT - rflint@shelbynews.com

Vietnam veterans returned home to protests, a cold shoulder and outright scorn from many Americans. Some were even spit in the face and called names.

Now, more than four decades after the war, Helping Hands for Freedom is looking to rectify that by honoring those veterans with a welcome home luncheon on Friday.

The luncheon will start at noon at the Shelbyville Parks Department, 945 S. Tompkins St. in Shelbyville. All Vietnam veterans are invited to attend.

Shelbyville Mayor Tom DeBaun and Helping Hands Midwest Community Liaison Paul Gable will speak and Carl Bentley will perform on guitar during the event, which is free.

Gable requested that those interested in attending should inform him ahead of time by calling him at 317-412-7881 or by email at pgable@helpinghandsforfreedom.org.

“I know a lot of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and never once have I heard them say they were spit on or (called names),” he said by phone Tuesday afternoon. “It’s a shame it took 50 years, but on Friday, hopefully we can give them the welcome home celebration that they deserve. It’s an opportunity to thank them for their service. A lot of them didn’t have a choice because of the draft, and those who did said, ‘It’s my time to serve.’”

After President Donald Trump signed legislation last year that designated March 29 as Vietnam Veteran’s Day, Gable decided after speaking with DeBaun that he wanted to do something recognizing those men and women. What came of that discussion was the idea of a luncheon.

“With my job, I have the privilege of meeting a lot of Vietnam vets who say they never got the thank you they deserve,” he said.

He later added by text message, “These men and women, sadly, were blamed for a war they didn’t start instead of being commended for serving with valor. On Friday it’ll be an honor to shake some hands and simply say thank you and welcome home to men and women, who despite our country turning its back on them, never turned their back on our country. The way they were treated was a disgrace and on Friday, we pause and vow it’ll never happen again.”

Many Vietnam veterans don’t like to talk about their experiences, he said. But he’s hoping that after he and DeBaun speak, a couple of veterans will be willing to talk about their service.

He wanted to thank the mayor and the parks department for helping make the event possible.