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Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans

A memorial wall was built at Operation LZ to honor veterans. Photo by Courtney Swessinger

A memorial wall was built at Operation LZ to honor veterans. Photo by Courtney Swessinger

By Courtney Swessinger

Imagine, for a second what it would be like to return home from a foreign country and not receive any recognition for the work you did. Now imagine when you do return, you find people yelling at you and spitting at you. This is what Vietnam veterans returning home faced as they stepped off of planes onto their home soil. Forty years later Vietnam veterans are finally getting the thank you they deserve with North Iowa giving them a welcome back they may never forget.

Operation Landing Zone (LZ) was established in order to give veterans an overdue and proper welcome home.  During the Vietnam war helicopters would fly in and out of various landing zones so the name was chosen as a tribute to those who flew those air-crafts.

Originally the event was intended to only cover nine Iowa counties, Vietnam veterans from all over the country attended though. Charlie Artringer is a retired Chief Post-Mate U.S. Navy who served from 1960 to 1980. He served two tours in country and he was with the Riverboats and the Riverine’s for a year. Part of what he did was to help haul the 9th Infantry Army. This was the first time the Army and Navy had worked together since the Civil War.

For other Vietnam veterans Operation LZ proved to be a time to finally step into the spotlight and talk about a situation which was once a sore spot for many in our country.

According to veteran John Hosier, this is the time for those Veterans to finally heal. “But the thing about this is, this is a place where vets can come in and feel safe. They’re around the things from many years ago and they’re gonna cry. They’re gonna laugh,” Hosier said. “They’re gonna be able to tell their story and they are gonna heal, and bring closure, not to them, but to their families and their friends in this community and the rest of their lives because we never told these things. It’s not about walking through and going look at this, look at this, it’s about feeling the spirit and the love of the story of all these men.”

Since the Vietnam War was known as a politician’s war, it was not surprising to see protester’s outside of the airports at times. Bob Havner, who served in the Marine Corps, spoke about his interactions with the protesters when he came home from the war.

“…But I came home, I was in my Marine uniform, I walked in through the airport in San Francisco, a lady walks up to me, asked who just got home from Vietnam, I said I did. [She] came up and threw a hot cup of coffee in my face,” Havner said.

“You never received the kind of welcome and homecoming you deserved, and this is a small way for us to say thank you,” said Governor Terry Branstad. “We are proud of you. We appreciate your great service to this country and we’re proud to live in the United States of America and in the state of Iowa.”

Jane Fonda was an American actress who was not fond of the Vietnam War. An article that appeared in U.S. Magazine said, “The  star (Jane Fonda), 77, famously made waves in the early 1970s when she publicized her dissenting opinion about the war, and took it far enough that some saw her as anti-U.S. army. In 1972, she traveled to Hanoi, Vietnam and posed for a now-infamous photo, in which she is seated in a helmet on a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft battery.”

Branstad related his experience with Jane Fonda during the Vietnam war.“I got the opportunity to serve in the 503rd Military Police Battalion to become the Provost Marshall’s driver. And the Provost Marshall was a full bird Colonel named Herby Keter.  I used to take him to 18th Corp Headquarters for meetings with the general staff and on the way back from one of those meetings he told me they were getting pressure from left wing congressmen to let Jane Fonda on the post.  And I said, ‘This is ridiculous.’ I put together 19 pages of documentation why they shouldn’t, and they denied her entrance, and she came anyway. I’m proud to say our unit, the 503rd arrested Jane Fonda at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.”

Major General Jackson from the Pentagon and the Department of Defense spoke at the event as well, along with Navy Lt. Commander Larry Spencer who was in the Hannoi Hilton for seven years.

“The foundation of today’s armed forces was built by Vietnam veterans, they’re efforts to restructure and rebuild our armed forces following Vietnam paved a way for all successes seen since,” said Jackson.

“As one of my very good friends  over there said when we got home, ‘If you wake up in the morning and there is a doorknob on your side of the door, its’  probably going to be a pretty good day,” Spencer said.

During Operation LZ there were POW-MIA Hot Air Balloons to raise awareness of those still missing.

“Well I think the most important thing is they think back and remember those buddies that were with them that didn’t come home and the ones that were captured and never heard about again,” said Luke Cesnik, an Army veteran and one of the hot air balloon pilots. “Not only do we represent the Vietnam Veterans, we represent the prisoners of war and the missing in action from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War; all the veterans up to date.”

The event also included rides in a Huey and a Cobra helicopter.

A total of 861 soldiers  from Iowa fought and died during the Vietnam War. So it is with these words that we think about what we personally do not think about each day; the sacrifices that those veterans in Vietnam made but they do not get credit for.