By Megan Williamson / Staff Writer
After 35 years, Vietnam veterans will get the warm welcome they once expected.
Buddy Butler of London got the idea for a slew of events to welcome Vietnam vets home when he arrived back to the states after serving in Operation: Iraqi Freedom and saw a man wearing a hat that said “Vietnam Veteran”. Butler took it upon himself to thank the man for his service.
The man didn’t know how to respond to Butler’s words of kindness, and went on to explain how he never got a warm welcome when he arrived back home after his service like Butler recently received.
That’s when Butler decided to do something.
He came into contact with Vietnam veteran Larry Taylor, also of London, this past March. Taylor said he wasn’t sure how to take Butler’s ideas of a welcome home party that some Vietnam vets never got a chance to experience.
Taylor said he mumbled, “Well it’s about 35 years too late,” but could hear the passion and motivation in Butler’s voice. He said that’s when he realized that if this doesn’t happen now, Vietnam vets might never be properly thanked for their service.
Taylor said that when arriving back home from Vietnam, those who landed on the west coast of America got the worst “welcome” anyone could imagine. He said, “I was expecting to kiss the ground when I got back.” He said that instead, people threw vegetables, cursed at them and held protests with signs that said things like, “Baby killers.”
He said those who came back to the states on the east coast, however, got a better welcome, though still not quite what they had been anticipating.
He said it wasn’t just Vietnam vets who got this treatment, but anyone in uniform and that the country was divided between supporters and protesters.
In hearing stories like these, Butler also went to Laurel County Fiscal Court as well as London City Council to discuss a weekend of welcome for the veterans. Both groups voted unanimously in favor of the idea. Butler said the town of London has been very generous and excited about the events.
A committee was then formed for the events, which began with five members and now has 25 members planning for the events which will begin October 8 with a candlelight vigil and helicopter fly over on the front lawn of South Laurel High School at 8:30 p.m.
Phil Smith, Managing Partner of Synergetic Solutions said, “I had a misunderstanding until I met the vets. I received an education, though. These men did what their country asked to do. They didn’t receive a welcome then. It’s time to make it right.”
Smith said at the recent Laurel County Homecoming that the vets were recognized and received a slow applause at first, eventually resonating into boisterous recognition as well as a standing ovation. He said the vets didn’t expect it and ended up crying tears of happiness for the respect they finally received.
Laurel County Magistrate and committee member for the events David Westerfield said, in response to the audience’s respect of the vets, that he’s “never seen more emotional people.” He said, “This welcome is way overdue.”
Vietnam veteran Gill Russell said that on October 8, Vietnam veteran Fred Niles, who got his legs shot off in battle, will be there hoping to meet a fallen brother’s family. The fallen soldier, Kenneth Joe Nolen of Manchester, was killed during combat on September 8, 1970.
On Thursday, the first of the events kicked off with a semi trailer being parked next to the interstate in London advertising the events as well as welcoming vets traveling on the interstate.
For more information on the events in October, visit www.vnamvetsparadelondonky.com.