Vietnam vets parade marks 25th year

June 17, 2011 (CHICAGO)

In June of 1986, hundreds of thousands of Vietnam veterans and their families were honored for the service. Many are now in town to mark the anniversary of that celebration.

Chicago played a pivotal role in the healing process following the Vietnam War. In the 1970s, as American soldiers started returning home from Vietnam, many received a cold and sometimes hostile reception.

After years of many veterans being shunned, Chicago held a huge 'Welcome Home' parade. Over 200,000 veterans and their families marched in the parade in the Loop on June 13th, 1986 with more than 300,000 others watching along the route. It was the largest parade of its kind in U.S. history.

"It was very emotional, because you felt of the love the city and the people," said Vietnam veteran Julie Viduya.

Those who died in Vietnam are named on the "Moving Wall," which is currently situated at Navy Pier.

"The Moving Wall is so emotional for so many people because it's a healing place. This is 58,000 men and women who have died for our country. This is a place of respect right here," said Mike LoRocco.

For Jack Shiffler, one name stands out. One of his best friends died within weeks of battle. He saw that name the first time he ever looked at the original wall in Washington, D.C.

"So I turned and... the name just jumped out at me... Jack Sutton... and I thought, my God, how can this happen," said Shiffler. "I knew he was dead, but I didn't believe it until I saw the name on the wall."

Shiffler organized Friday's ceremony, which will honor the men and eight women on the half-size replica of the original wall. It is all part of several events this weekend which will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the 1986 Chicago parade which honored Vietnam vets.

"Chicago was so gracious to us and it opened the eyes of the world - that we weren't the bad guys - what the government does the government does," said Shiffler. "When you're in the military, it's a dictatorship - you go where they send you."

Eleventh Ward Alderman and Vietnam vet Jim Balcer was on hand to welcome the crowd.

"It symbolizes the sacrifice for our nation, the men and women that died in the defense of our nation," said Balcer.

Gold Star mom Susan Weingler lost her son, Sgt. Robert Weingler, in Afghanistan in 2009 and came to pay tribute to her son and the fallen heroes of Vietnam.

"You never forget. There are the reason we are walking free," said Weinger.

The onlookers at the original parade were supportive and welcoming - far different from the treatment most veterans experienced when the war ended.

"We didn't know what to expect that morning," said Marine veteran Jack Hosey. "The first veteran I met, he said, 'What do you think they're going to throw at us?' I said rocks, he said, maybe books... there was a lot of animosity."

Hosey came to Chicago from Elgin alone to place flags by each panel of names, just like he did in 1986.

Other onlookers had different reasons for showing their respects to the fallen warriors of Vietnam.

"My son is a veteran, and he's from Iraq, two tours of duty and he's a purple heart, and I believe that they're all one," said Mary Steinberg.

At the ceremony Friday, veterans placed eight roses by the Moving Wall. The eight roses represent the eight women, all nurses, who died during the war.

"A lot of people didn't expect that women actually served in Vietnam. Women did serve in Vietnam and in fact, all the women who are recognized on the wall are nurses," said Col. Constance Edwards, retired .

Organizers believe the 1986 celebration changed the country's mood, and that spirit now benefits soldiers today.

"We wanna make sure that they don't have the same kind of treatment that we did, with not getting health benefits, with not recognizing that there is problems with PTSD," said Vietnam veteran Mike McMeel.

The 1986 parade was held eleven years after the war ended. Ceremonies and events to commemorate it began Friday afternoon at Navy Pier and continue through weekend.

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