66: Welcome Home, Troops

66: Welcome Home, Troops

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America

Welcome Home, Troops

The willingness of America’s veterans to sacrifice for our country has earned them our lasting gratitude.

~Jeff Miller

When my Corcoran, California high school class of 1965 graduated, our celebrations were tempered by the expectation that many of the young men would either be drafted or volunteer for the military. Thirty-six answered the call, leaving behind families, girlfriends, and college plans in order to serve our country.

They joined the Army, Marines, Air Force, and Navy, and dutifully went into an unpopular war. One of our classmates, Stephen Gaymon, was fatally wounded shortly after arriving in Vietnam. The rest came home from war to an ungrateful nation. Many also suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, a little known condition at that time.

As a result, when it came time for our fifty-year class reunion, my classmates and I on the planning committee wanted to do something extra special to show our gratitude to the members of our class who served our country. One of our committee members, Pat, suggested that we honor our veterans with a special ceremony and give them ribbons with their name and service branch written on them. “I will design and make them. It would be a blessing to do this,” Pat said.

The tribute was planned as a surprise for our veterans, but as the date of the event drew near, most of our military guys had not registered. It was important for them to be there. We called each one of the veterans and made a special appeal to them to attend. One veteran, Richard, told me, “I forgot all about it and wasn’t planning on coming.” Once it was explained that we are going to honor those who served our country, Richard agreed to come. Registration of veterans jumped significantly. All but a few committed to attending, and those who could not were disappointed.

The ceremony would be the highlight of our evening. The appointed hour came and classmate Andy walked up to the podium, along with the two others who would pin the ribbons on the men’s shirts. The audience grew quiet as Andy announced, “Tonight we want to honor our veterans by giving them a gift of appreciation. When your name is called, please come forward and stay until everyone is standing.”

The names of those unable to attend were read first in a slow cadence to ensure every name would be heard. The room remained silent as the names of the four deceased veterans were called and their ribbons were accepted by family members or friends. Andy finally announced, “Stephen Gaymon gave his life and the ultimate sacrifice for our country.”

Then each veteran who was in attendance heard his name called and went up to have his ribbon pinned on his jacket. It was startling to see how many of our classmates served. In the end, twenty-five men stood side by side. We all got misty eyes. We knew that special group of men at the front of the room shared a bond the rest of us could not truly understand.

Then Richard stepped forward and reached for the microphone. With the following words he stole the hearts of the audience: “This is long overdue. When I came home from Vietnam, I was spit on and cursed at. Tonight we are finally welcomed home.” Richard turned toward his fellow veterans and said, “Welcome home, troops!”

The audience was silent for a moment before erupting into a grateful standing ovation as patriotic music played in the background. We had welcomed home our own. It almost felt like our high school graduation ceremony was finally complete.

~Penelope A. Childers

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