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Parade shows overdue appreciation for Vietnam vets

Posted November 12, 2011

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— The 10-day Heroes Homecoming celebration that has honored Vietnam veterans in Fayetteville culminated Saturday with a parade downtown.

The parade and the homecoming itself, which was bursting with gratitude, was a far cry from what most soldiers received when they returned from Vietnam. The pageantry on Hay Street – rowdy with marching bands and crowds lining the street with signs saying "Thank you" – isn't the image of Fayetteville that Tom Dohnke remembers.

When he deployed from Fort Bragg to Vietnam in 1967, Dohnke recalled a very different atmosphere.

"There were pool halls, hotels, bar fights, and we weren't well accepted in this town in those days," he said.

Dohnke returned to Vietnam in 2009 to appear in "Killing Memories," a documentary produced by his company commander, Pete Pepper.

The trip was cathartic for him and the four other soldiers featured, but they live every day with the guilt of survival and grief for their fallen comrades.

Fayetteville parade shows gratitude for Vietnam vets Fayetteville parade shows gratitude for Vietnam vets

"I've been mourning them all these years, from the time I left over there," Dohnke said. "We lost one after another like flies – 18 in one day, 13 another day, 6 another."

But Saturday's parade brought some redemption to Fayetteville, as onlookers showed appreciation to the marching vets.

Eight-year-old Jalonya Griffin was among them, wearing an oversized hat belonging to one special veteran.

"It's my grandpa's," she said. "I'm really happy that he was a hero."

The heroes showed humility as the town made up for the four decades that went by without giving those who served in Vietnam a proper Heroes Homecoming.

"I was never a hero," Dohnke said. "For a week, you folks in this town have been treating me like a hero. I'm embarrassed over it. I'm not a hero and never was."


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  • airbornemonty Nov 14, 2011

    One parade versus Thirty-seven years of job discrimination and disrespect that the Vietnam area soldiers endured just doesn't seem to balance out in my book.

    Although to some, it will seem that the one measly parade made up for all of those years of job discrimination and mumbled insults, but to a lot of us there is little comfort since the memories of those years will never be forgotten. And to those mumblers, you know who you are.

  • just my2cents Nov 14, 2011

    You are a hero! Every single one of you who have fought with honor for our country is a hero.

  • Malaki Nov 14, 2011

    Thank you to all our Veterans!

  • vter53 Nov 14, 2011

    I myself am a vietnam vet and I will never forgive the people in this country for the way myself and my brothers and sisters were treated when we came home from doing a job my country ordered me to do. I was not a baby killer or a war monger, nor was I then or am I now a hero. I was a young soldier doing what I thought was helping protect the freedom here. I am however thankful that the troops of these two current wars are not treated the same as we were and given the recognition they rightly deserve. We were advised not to wear our uniform in public back then, just truly shameful. I lost many friends on those rice paddies and it took me 10 years to ease the guilt that I lived and they died and that was 40 years ago. You have no clue what it is like unless you live it, so I ask you please you see a soldier thank them and better yet if they are in a place to eat pick up their meal and then tell them thank you, I do.

  • joannespann Nov 14, 2011

    I marched in the parade on Saturday. I was very proud to thank all veterans. I am a vet also of the Viet Nam Era. I worked in a Medical Hold Company, and saw how our heros came home. Thank you all for a job well done. I was also very proud of my city of Fayetteville. We were all so very proud to give these Vets the homecoming they deserved so many decades ago.

  • redrubberball1 Nov 14, 2011

    Speaking as a Vietnam vet, our deepest respect should be reserved for those whose lives were lost in defense of our country from the Revolution onward and especially WWI & WWII. I thought sure when we went into Iraq, that we had regained our resolve to stay the course and win. We don't do our servicemen/women justice by hamstringing them with foolish rules of engagement. We should fight to win or not fight. We easily have the might.

  • Stand-In-The-Door Nov 14, 2011

    I never considered myself a hero. My deepest thanks to those of you who have treated not only the Vietnam Vets as such but all of our men and women past and present who have worn and continue to wear the uniform.

  • skyyekatfromafar Nov 14, 2011

    Well said, Disabled Vet! All of our vets deserve not only our respect but our gratitude for insuring our freedom to do things that we take for granted all to often.

  • Disabled Vet Nov 14, 2011

    I was lucky and missed going to Viet Nam by one number. However, many of my friends from high school were not so lucky and many of them did not return. At that I felt it was terrible the way we were treated for just doing our jobs. I am glad that our country is finally showing us Viet Nam (era) vets the respect we earned and deserved. For that matter, I am glad that the country is showing ALL vets some respect and appreciation.