California Parade Honors Vietnam Vets

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 1, 2006 - This Veterans Day, Antelope Valley, Calif., is making sure Vietnam veterans get the welcome home they never got with a Welcome Home parade, one of the event's organizers said.

"It's 30 years late, but they're getting their welcome home parade, at least in this community," Robert Vanderstok, an Antelope Valley Operation Welcome Home Parade Committee member said. "The greater goal to this whole (is) to bring a catharsis to all of these folks who simply never got their welcome home parade."

The idea originally started with Mike Jackson, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, and Tara Dixon-Engel, who felt that a welcome home on behalf of Vietnam veterans was long overdue, Vanderstok said.

As the duo was working on a Vietnam memoir, "Naked in Da Nang," the concept for the welcome home, a tribute to the men and women who served in Southeast Asia, evolved. The resulting parade took place in Las Vegas in 2005.

Though the Las Vegas parade was intended to be a one-time event, it got some attendees from Antelope Valley thinking about hosting one in their community, Vanderstok said. What they've come up with is an event that acknowledges all veterans but is first and foremost a tribute to those who fought in Vietnam.

"The parade is being designed so they have a very dramatic drum line -- actually it's a color guard that leads off the parade, and then the drum line, which creates the pomp and circumstance," he said. "They're followed by two small children with flower petals and directly behind them are the Vietnam vets."

All other veterans and active-duty military participating, in addition to bands and other groups common to a parade, will follow the Vietnam veterans, Vanderstok said. A ceremony will immediately follow the 1.5-mile parade, and the day will conclude with "somewhat of a homegrown USO show."

"So many of the ceremonies that take place nationwide (are) ceremonies of remembrance," he said. "Ours is a celebration. We want it to be very upbeat, although we have every expectation it's going to be considerably emotional to many."

As word has spread about the event, typical comments include, "Well, it's about time somebody did this," Vanderstok said.

Vietnam veterans who wish to participate in the parade can pre-register on the Antelope Valley Welcome Home Web site to ensure their names are included in a booklet being printed to mark the occasion. Registration will remain open through the day of the parade, however.

"You can imagine that what some of these vets do is they bottle this up and they simply never speak of it," Vanderstok said. "And now this parade is turning out to be a very, very public event, some of these vets are saying, 'I want to say something about it, but I never felt anybody was inclined to listen.'

"They're feeling an outlet for being able to speak about it," he added.