Illinois marks 1st Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day as veterans remember fallen soldiers

Some gathered at Vietnam Memorial on Chicago Riverwalk Wednesday morning to remember fallen

ByStephanie Wade WLS logo
Wednesday, March 29, 2023
Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day: 50 years since last troops withdrew
Illinois lawmakers marked 50 years since the last troops withdrew from Vietnam as Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- On Wednesday, state lawmakers voted to mark March 29 as Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day in Illinois.

Wednesday also marked the 50th anniversary of the final United States combat troops withdrawing from Vietnam in 1973.

At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Wacker Drive and Wabash Avenue, those who fought in the war held a wreath laying ceremony honoring the veterans who gave their lives to this country.

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"And we were the lucky ones," said Vietnam War veteran Kevin Calkins. "We got to come home. The names on that wall. That's why we do this here."

Nearly 3,000 of the 58,000 United States Armed Forces members killed in Vietnam were from Illinois. Their names are on display.

Each veteran took turns passing the microphone and saying the names aloud of their fallen friends.

"The camaraderie is there, the friendship, just knowing what we went through, and we came home," said Vietnam War veteran Charles Padilla.

Padilla and Barron Buchunas grew up together on the Southwest Side of Chicago, and both served in Vietnam.

"We got to the age of 17, 18, drafts came in and we ended up all going into the service," Padilla said.

Buchunas spoke about the connection Vietnam War veterans have.

"We can all relate in a certain way, just by being there, and it makes a difference," Buchunas said. "Keeps us closer together."

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Carlos Saladino was one of the more than 300,000 soldiers wounded in the war. He reflected on the young lives lost.

"I turned 19 years old when I was over there," Saladino said. "And so the life that was lost then. I see myself, I'm 73 years old and I've got four children, married my wife, had a good job with the Chicago Police Department, met so many good friends, and what they missed."

It was a day full of emotions.

""I'm just... glad we made it back," Padilla said.