Editorial: A welcome home to those who served

Apr. 29, 2013 @ 12:01 AM

Billed as “The Parade You Never Got,” the recent Welcome Home from Vietnam event in Pigeon Forge was presented by its organizers as a kind of corrective celebration for Vietnam veterans, many of whom were poorly treated when they returned from war.

Anti-war protesters back then were not soon forgiving of the soldiers coming back from Southeast Asia. Some of those soldiers, however, had their own doubts about the war.

“I’m no hero,” said Vietnam vet Harold Stinnett of Sevierville. “I didn’t do any great deeds. I’m just a country boy who went and served and did what I was told and came home.”

Soldiers tell of memories they wish they didn’t have, friends they wish they hadn’t lost. Stinnett lost his best friend to an RPG one night. Forty-five years later, he still thinks about it.

Between then and now, Stinnett said, a lot of people have thanked him. At first, though, “there was no welcome home. Nothing. I was just back, and that was it.”

The celebration, April 15-17, opened with a “Salute to Vietnam Veterans” at the Dixie Stampede, sponsored by Dolly Parton. This program included a special greeting by Adrian Cronauer, the Air Force sergeant and radio personality who inspired the 1987 film “Good Morning, Vietnam.”

The following morning, veterans gathered in the Reunion Hall, “a place to gather, a place for soldiers to connect with long-lost but not forgotten comrades-in-arms,” according to the event’s itinerary. The program also included a two-night stay in a first class hotel, two dinner shows, and local attraction discounts and coupons for veterans.

And, of course, there was the parade, sponsored by the city of Pigeon Forge and the Tennessee National Guard. The veterans marched down the Parkway, some riding on troop transports organized by their respective branch of service.

Dignitaries in automobiles, colorful floats and displays, military vehicles and civilian support groups all streamed down the Parkway among crowds and cannons shooting paper confetti.

The veterans were met with cheers, salutes and applause. After what they’ve been through, they deserve to be welcomed home.