By Mary O’KEEFE
The first Welcome Home, Vietnam Veterans ceremony was held Saturday morning at the corner of Honolulu Avenue and Ocean View Boulevard in Montrose. The location is particularly significant because the site is the first city-sponsored Vietnam memorial in the nation, dedicated in 1968.
“[Vietnam] veterans came home and no one said ‘thank you,’” said Warren Spayth, a Vietnam veteran. “If you were in uniform, it was bad. Yes, [some] would spit on veterans. There was definitely no celebration.”
He added that many of the Vietnam veterans, and those who knew history, remembered the ticker-tape parades for returning World War II soldiers. Spayth said that was a different war, but soldiers in Vietnam were fighting for their country, too, and most thought the behavior toward returning veterans unjust.
“Just because you didn’t agree with the war, you don’t [turn on] the veterans,” he said.
Since the days of Vietnam, the country has had a change in attitude toward returning veterans. This change has made Spayth happy, he said.
America’s involvement in Vietnam extended from 1959 to 1975. The United States’ early role was as adviser, but in 1964 after the North Vietnamese attacked two U.S. ships in international waters, President Lyndon Johnson was given the authority to order the first U.S. ground troops to Vietnam. The political and social turmoil that surrounded Vietnam touched those serving in the military while overseas and when they returned home. Those emotional wounds may not be fresh, but they are still tender.
“We could have had a victory in Vietnam if the government stood behind us,” said Marvin Owen to those gathered on Saturday. Owen served in the reserves for 10 years during the Vietnam era. “I served eight years in the Navy and two years in the U.S. Marine Corps as a medic.”
Ken Jury, American Legion commander, read a brief history of Vietnam and ended his statement by reminding the audience, “Freedom is not free.”
Those tumultuous times in America might be one reason that some cities and organizations had stopped honoring those who died during the Vietnam War. But in Montrose, it seemed obvious that a memorial needed to be erected to honor those who served.
Don Carpenter, publisher-editor of the Crescenta Valley Ledger, and Frank Roberts, known as Mr. Montrose, were joined by business owner Vito Cannella in approaching the city to get permission to move forward with the installation of the memorial.
“It is an honor to come to these events,” said Paul Roberts, Frank’s son. “Dad would be proud.” Frank died in 2005.
Paul is the owner of Landry’s Sporting Goods in Montrose. He added his dad didn’t worry about what the public would have said about the project and noted that Don Carpenter had even more to be concerned about, being the publisher of the local paper. The Crescenta Valley Ledger was the local paper from the 1920s to the 1970s. The Carpenter family owned and published it.
“He and Frank just decided they had to do this,” said Steve Carpenter, Don’s son. Don died in 1980. Steve added his father never thought of the consequences, even though there were still protests across the country against Vietnam.
“There were a few people that would say [negative] stuff, but many supported them,” he said.
The memorial and the community’s respect for the CV Ledger is a sense of pride for Steve. He said he was happy with the turnout for the first Vietnam Welcome Home celebration on Saturday. Senator Carol Liu was in the audience as were representatives from several organizations including the Montrose Shopping Park Assn., Montrose-Verdugo City Chamber of Commerce, CV Chamber of Commerce, Assemblymember Mike Gatto and Congressman Adam Schiff. The event included the Crescenta Valley High School JROTC that presented the colors and the branches of the service ceremony.
Lynn McGinnis was joined by fellow veterans in a flag folding ceremony, though the ceremony was delayed.
“We hold these ceremonies to find out what we forgot,” McGinnis joked. “And we forgot the flag.” A flag was located and the ceremony took place.
“I was supposed to bring the flag,” confessed Spayth to the audience.
“You did a good job defending the flag in Vietnam, so we will let it go this time,” McGinnis responded.