A real welcome home

Published 3:05 pm Monday, October 12, 2009

When today’s military men and women return home, they are usually welcomed by family and friends with hugs, kisses and tears of joy. In many cases, military support groups like the USO also meet them at the airport, sometimes even handing out small gifts.

This hasn’t always been the case, as most adults know. When Vietnam era military men and women came home, they were often met by war protestors, who called them names and spit on them. Many of those same men and women have never truly been welcomed home.

Last Friday night, that changed. A welcome home celebration was planned by a group headed by PGR State Captain Paul “Penguin” Reynolds, and many sponsors helped to make the afternoon possible.

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The parade started at the Farmer’s Market on Federal Drive and came into the Alabama National Fairgrounds parking lot.

Steve Brooks of Luverne was among those honored in Friday afternoon’s parade.

Leading off the parade was the Huntingdon College band, which performed patriotic music. This was followed by a jeep carrying Lt. Gen. Hal Moore, who wrote We Were Soldiers Once… and Young. Over 85 veterans on motorcycles, and almost that many more riding in golf carts or cars or on foot traveled along the parade route. The street was lined with family, friends and supporters who were waving flags and cheering. A huge flag, suspended from a Montgomery Fire Department ladder truck, hung over the entrance into the fairgrounds.

After the veterans circled the parking lot, they were given t-shirts and pins commemorating the event.

The crowd was welcomed by MC Bubba Culpepper and the National Anthem was played. While announcements were made, a flyover by a C 130 brought cheers from the crowd.

Then everyone moved into the Coliseum for the rest of the ceremony. The colors were posted, followed by a moment of silence for those veterans who had given their lives for their country, and then Paul Simms led in prayer. The Sons of the Confederacy, in full costume, presented the colors, and a local Webelo Scout recited the Preamble to the Constitution.

Lt. Gen. Moore was introduced by Gov. Bob Riley, and he spoke to everyone about the service Vietnam veterans and their spouses and families gave to our country.

Everyone said the Pledge of Allegiance, then listened while the Grace Notes of Montgomery sang the Medley of Service Hymns; when each branch of the service heard its song, they stood and joined in to sing.

Next, several members of the Gold Star Mothers (mothers whose son or daughter has died in service to our country) gave a presentation.

Then the MC called for complete silence while five Vietnam veterans each brought a piece of the monument and assembled it on the stage. The monument consisted of a base, rifle, boots, dog tags, a helmet and POW/MIA flag. The servicemen remained at attention for several minutes, while a wreath was laid at the monument. Finally, a beautiful rendition of Echo Taps was played by four trumpeteers from the Huntingdon Band.

After the ceremony, a 14-foot cake was wheeled in and served to everyone; we were all invited to stay for the concert by Yard Dogs, who played music from the Vietnam era–their first song was “We Gotta Get Out of This Place”.