When Kevin Howell was growing up in Fort Wayne in the 1960s and early 1970s, he learned in junior high and high school about the celebrations when troops came home from World War I and World War II.
But for veterans returning from the Vietnam War, “There was never a homecoming for any of those guys — anywhere,” Howell said. “I found that strange.”
He and others plan to do something about that this Saturday: They've organized a 50th Anniversary Homecoming Celebration for Tri-state area Vietnam veterans and Vietnam-era veterans from 1 to 4 p.m. at Parkview Field. The event is open to veterans, their families and families who lost loved ones during the war in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
Along with an official welcome home ceremony, organizations serving veterans will have information booths set up to answer veterans' questions and discuss benefits available, Howell said.
“A lot of these guys were so turned off by what they encountered when they came home, they never checked on what benefits they earned,” he said.
More than 3.4 million American military personnel were deployed to Southeast Asia as part of the U.S. war effort in Vietnam from Aug. 4, 1964, to Jan. 27, 1973, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports at www.va.gov/oaa/pocketcard/vietnam.asp.
About 58,220 of those service members died, including 1,534 from Indiana, the National Archives reports at www.archives.gov. The Indiana deaths included 65 Fort Wayne residents and three from New Haven, it says at www.virtualwall.org.
Howell, an Allen County Council member who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1983 to 1993, was inspired to organize the event in part after learning about 13 months ago that his brother, Tony, had been among the U.S. troops secretly serving in Laos during his tour of duty from 1967 to 1968.
Tony Howell will be one of the speakers at the Homecoming Celebration.
Kevin Howell started organizing the event a year ago. He based the 50th anniversary timing on President John F. Kennedy signing an executive order in October 1963 that sent a large number of U.S. military personnel into South Vietnam as observers.
This spring, Howell joined and partnered with the area's nonprofit Vietnam Veterans of America organization, Chapter 698 in Bluffton.
“They have been the hardest ones to convince it actually is going to happen,” Howell said, largely because of the pain they still carry from the lack of welcome they received after returning home from the war.
He expects the afternoon to be very emotional for Vietnam vets.
“It's been repressed for 50 years,” he said.