Vietnam Veterans Get Long Overdue Homecoming Celebration in Georgia

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By Col. Jack Jacobs, U.S. Army (ret.)

After serving their country and risking their lives, many soldiers who returned home from the Vietnam War received scorn instead of welcome.

Americans who didn't believe in the war blamed the soldiers, and some took their anger out on service members. Soldiers came home from combat quietly and were told not to wear their uniforms to avoid inviting contempt.

But more than 40 years after the end of the war, the Georgia chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America wanted to rectify the treatment the veterans received after serving.

Vietnam veterans were invited to Fort Stewart in southeast Georgia Friday for a largely-belated welcome-home ceremony in Cotrell Field. More than 2,000 people, including 800 veterans attended, according to the Army.

"It's been long and hard, but I believe that the people now believe in us, for what we did," said Terry Browning, who served in the Marine Corps from 1968 to 1972. He said he attended the event because he had "never been in a parade or welcomed home."

Instead, he said, he returned to people who wouldn't hire him, and some who spit on him.

"When we came back, things were very different — different than they are now, for sure," said Verlin Voram, who volunteered for the Marine Corps in 1965. He said he returned from Vietnam in the dark of night, and was told to get in a cab as soon as he got off the plane. He still encountered people lined along the fences of the airport, who "weren't very friendly," he said.

Vietnam veterans are honored during a Welcome Home Ceremony for Vietnam veterans at Fort Stewart in Hinesville, Ga. on Friday, June 19, 2015.NBC News / NBC News

"It's long overdue," said Joseph Mitchler of the ceremony, in which the soldiers marched onto the field to the sound of applause and cheers. "Those people deserve the rights that all the other veterans have, said Mitchler.

Many of the veterans and their families who were at the event said the ceremony was a form of redemption for the negative reception they encountered when they returned home from the war.

A woman holds a welcome home sign during a Welcome Home Ceremony for Vietnam veterans at Fort Stewart in Hinesville, Ga. on Friday, June 19, 2015.NBC News / NBC News

And that's why Hinesville, Georgia, Mayor James Thomas, who is a Vietnam veteran himself, said he hopes the idea spreads to other parts of the country so that as many veterans as possible can experience the celebration that they deserve and were denied.

"I hope that this, since it's the first in the Army, will proliferate and go to every corner of our nation where you have veterans who've served so it shows them the appreciation that the country has for their sacrifices," Thomas said.

Elisha Fieldstadt contributed.