'It means the world to me': TRU Community Care conducts 'Welcome home, Vietnam veterans' ceremony

·3 min read

Mar. 30—Editor's note: The story below has been updated to correct the location of the Vietnam War veteran ceremony. It was held at Longmont Senior Center.

Inside a room in Longmont, a crowd of people chanted two words over and over, ensuring they were heard. Although the words came late — almost 50 years late — they were said in earnest.

"Welcome home," the audience repeated again and again.

On Tuesday, TRU Community Care, a hospice and long-term care provider, conducted a ceremony at the Longmont Senior Center to welcome home and honor the many Vietnam War veterans who were not greeted with kindness or did not feel gratitude from society when they returned home from war many years ago.

March 29, 1973, is the day the last combat troops and prisoners of war were brought back to American soil after the war, according to a news release from TRU. The day is also National Vietnam War Veterans Day. Colorado last year passed a bill to recognize March 30 as a holiday known as "Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day."

"We're here to celebrate you — Vietnam-era veterans — and thank you for your service," said Becki Parr, TRU volunteer coordinator on Tuesday. "We are here to honor what you are most proud of and celebrate your accomplishments. We are here to bear witness to your anguish, your hardships and your suffering. We are here to remember and memorialize those who served and are no longer with us. We are here to support you."

About 70 people attended the event Tuesday. Parr said TRU plans to continue the ceremony annually and hopes to expand it to offer a similar event for veterans in Boulder County.

During the ceremony, American Legion Post 32 performed the presentation of colors. Members of the legion also assisted Larry Sturgeon, volunteer with TRU and a Vietnam War veteran, with giving pins to veterans.

When Sturgeon started to think about the welcome home event on Monday night, trauma-filled memories flooded through him. He was a medic and a medical technologist in the U.S. Army and helped soldiers who were wounded while serving in the war.

In order to ease his anxiety, Sturgeon spoke with his wife and told her what he was thinking and feeling.

"As soon as I did that, I was OK again," he said. "The reason why this (event) is so important is because those guys are in there doing that. When those things come up, if you've got somebody to talk to, it takes all of the power away."

Sturgeon said Vietnam War veterans are not very patriotic, but they love the United States nonetheless.

"We are finally at the point where we are feeling comfortable with our country again," he said. "When we hear the national anthem or we see the flag, we are given the right to salute that flag, and we feel comfortable doing it. There were many years I sat in my seat (instead) because (the government) knew we were losing the war, and they kept us over there."

When Jack Burchett landed in California decades ago after serving during the Vietnam War, people spat on him. Others through garbage at him. Never did he hear the words "welcome home."

Burchett, 75, of Johnstown, served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1965 to 1969.

Although the words came late, they didn't mean any less to him when they were said on Tuesday.

"I remember why we are such a great country," he said as tears filled his eyes.

Amy Rosati, a Firestone resident, said her dad served in the U.S. Army from 1968 and 1969. When he returned home from serving, he did not receive a warm welcome either, she said.

Growing up, she spent every Veteran's Day with her dad and listened to his stories. The ceremony on Tuesday meant everything to her, Rosati said.

"It means he didn't die in vain," she said. "Knowing they are getting the recognition they deserve, and they did deserve to get welcomed home — it means the world to me."