JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell signed legislation Wednesday designating March 29 of each year as Vietnam Veterans Day in Alaska.
Parnell was joined for the bill signing in the packed Speaker’s chamber by legislators and veterans of the war, some of whom are serving in the Legislature, including Senate President Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla, who served in the Army during Vietnam.
“This is welcome home,” he said, his voice cracking. “Welcome.”
March 29, 1973, marked the withdrawal of the last U.S. troops from Vietnam. Rep. Bob Herron, a co-sponsor of HB67, said many veterans returned home changed forever, including his wife’s brother, and died early in their lives, not in Vietnam “but because of Vietnam.”
Rep. Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks, said he carried the bill at the request of Bill Thomas, a former Republican state representative from Haines who sought unsuccessfully to get a similar bill passed last year. Thompson said Vietnam veterans were not greeted with parades and speeches but instead with silence and sometimes abuse for having served.
Some of the veterans on hand received pens, used by Parnell to sign the bill, and dog tags, which Huggins said included the words “Welcome Home.”
Thomas, who also served in the Army during the war, said he felt the need to hide his connection to the conflict when he returned to the United States, going so far as to throw away his clothes.
He said he hoped setting aside a day to honor the veterans would help with the healing and even provide some closure.