By JESSICA CRAWFORD
• Daily Leader
Vietnam veterans were once young men, going off to a war that they may not have understood. But, they went anyway – because their country asked them to. Upon returning home, they were met with harsh words and anger – not a “Welcome home” ceremony.
Whirlwind Career Counseling Center for Veterans Executive Director Ed Poley believes these veterans have gone long enough without a due welcome. Poley understands very well what Vietnam veterans experienced when they stepped off the plane onto American soil. As well he should, he is a Vietnam veteran himself.
Poley is currently seeking veterans of the Vietnam War as well as veterans from other wars to participate in an interview process. The interviews will be displayed in a montage on July 4 following the BJ’s game at Brent Gould Field.
“What we are trying to put together is specifically some comments from Vietnam veterans, but veterans from other wars as well,” Poley said. “What I have asked for is comments on what it is like to come back, to reintegrate themselves into our world. Also, for the older veterans, what advice might they have for the younger veterans as they get ready to be deployed again and then come back to our world.
“I think I have a total of 16 interviews at this time,” he continued. “What I want to do is put together probably a maximum of five to seven minutes of their comments. Then the plan is, after the ballgame is over, we will invite all of the Vietnam veterans that are there to come out on the field to be recognized and be welcomed home by the crowd that is there. Then I would like to show a montage of all the comments.”
Poley explained how odd the process of going off to war and coming home was for Vietnam veterans.
“Vietnam veterans, for the most part, after the war got started, went in a very strange way and came home in a very strange way,” he said. “We finished our training, and most of us were sent home on a 30-day leave with an airplane ticket that said show up to L.A. on such and such date. The amazing thing is that we did, thousands of us, 2.9 million served and 2.8 million of us went to war that way.
“When we went home it was exactly the opposite,” he explained. “We got off the plane to signs that said, ‘Welcome home, baby killers’ and had rotten eggs and tomatoes thrown at us. We got a shower and a hot meal, then we got a plane ticket home. No one said, ‘Thank you.’ What they said was actually the opposite of that for the vast majority of Vietnam veterans.”
Many years of demonstrations against the Vietnam War are quite possibly the reason for the treatment of the veterans as they returned home, Poley believes.
“I came back in 1971, it was very late in the war,” he said. “When I came home, there were no American infantry left where I was. I was 25. The bottom line is we went and did what we were asked to do by our nation. It is very difficult to support the soldier if you don’t support the war. The first demonstrations were in 1965. There was a long time of unrest.”
When asked if America has learned from the experience by treating a new generation of soldiers with respect and honor, his answer was, “yes and no.”
“The reason I say that is because I look at the homecoming we have now for Iraqi and Afghanistan vets and they have terrific homecomings,” he said. “But if you look at the movies and the television shows that are out now that have the same veterans, they are being portrayed as being pretty loose cannons. There is no question that when you come home from war, there is an adjustment that has to be made and it is sometimes a very difficult adjustment.
“In my era, everybody thought we were all John Rambo,” he added. “I never met anybody like that. That was just a figment of someone’s imagination. Great theater, but for the most part, people just weren’t like that. I have the same concern now that inappropriate portrayal of Iraqi veterans will portray them in the same light that Vietnam vets were portrayed in.”
Honoring Vietnam veterans in a way a soldier deserves to be honored is not an idea Poley came up with on his own.
“This is not my original idea,” Poley said. “I would love to have been the one to have come up with it, but many have done it before. When I heard about the idea, I thought ‘what a great thing.’”
Poley is very much looking forward to honoring his fellow veterans on July 4 and truly hopes as many as possible will attend the event.
“I know we have about 5,000 total veterans in the area and the reason that we know that is we know how many are registered here at the V.A. Clinic and we know they aren’t all registered there,” he said. “I am talking about within 100-mile radius of Liberal. My goal is we would have 10 percent, which would be 500 veterans, show up. If we did, that would be wonderful.”
Poley said he must finish the interview process during the first part of this week. However, he encourages any veteran willing to take part in the interview process to give him a call at (620) 482-3431.