An overdue welcome home Vietnam vets

U.S. military personnel returning from Vietnam never got an appropriate welcome home. That’s set to change.

It was lunchtime at a McDonald’s south of Scranton, and Robert Comer stood behind a group of young soldiers who had just returned from Iraq.

He was working as a truck driver and on his way home toward York.

Nearing retirement age, Comer was tired and ready to get back on the road, but he decided to take a moment and speak to one of the soldiers to thank him for his service.

The two spoke briefly before Comer hesitantly confided to the young man: I was in Vietnam.

“What happened next,” he says, “I can’t talk about it without getting teary-eyed.”

‘They never got that welcome home’

Spc. 4th Class Comer served with the 8th Engineer Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division repairing equipment, carving out jungle landing strips, and writing letters to his mother. “Dodging bullets,” he recalled.

But, like others of his generation, he returned to a country that seemed ashamed of him.

“Many hid their uniforms away and went on with their lives,” says Terry Gendron, director of the York County Department of Veterans Affairs. “Vietnam veterans never got that welcome home.”

That’s set to change.

We just want to generate a community spirit of gratitude that only York County can do. These veterans served, came home, and became the fabric of our communities. They deserve that.

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Terry Gendron Director of the York County Department of Veterans Affairs

In 2017, Vietnam War Veterans Day was established as March 29th and written into federal statute thanks to the work of fellow YORKVET Harold Redding and U.S. Senator Pat Toomey. This year, York County is calling for an all-out welcome home display of gratitude.

Municipalities, schools, businesses, and people on the street are encouraged to participate. All ideas for meaningful, grass-roots tributes are welcome.

“We just want to generate a community spirit of gratitude that only York County can do,” Gendron says. “These veterans served, came home, and became the fabric of our communities. They deserve that.”

‘Thank you for your service’

In that truck-stop McDonald’s, the soldier took the arm of Comer and called to his buddies: This guy was in Vietnam.

One by one, young servicemen shook a startled Comer’s hand, ushering him forward. You paved the way for us, they told him. Your generation is why we’re welcomed back.

Thank you for your service, sir.

Comer will never forget it. One brief moment in one fast food line in one corner of the country, so easy for us to miss: It changed his life.

“I went to the truck, and I couldn’t control the tears,” he says. “I didn’t have to hide, and I didn’t have to be ashamed anymore.”

That day, one more veteran was home.

Sponsored by York County Department of Veterans Affairs

Visit: York County VA website
yorkvet@yorkcountypa.gov
717-771-9218
28 E. Market St. York, PA 17401

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