Dozens gathered at the East Tennessee Veterans Memorial on Saturday to honor the local heroes of East Tennessee who fought in Vietnam.It was all a part of a welcome home ceremony for soldiers who faced backlash after the war.
Usually, even on a bright day downtown, such a formal event wouldn’t attract Vietnam veteran Paul Shelton.”I have no interest at all in ceremonies, or crowds for that matter!” he said. But this time, he made an exception.”It’s very very good to be able to come to something like this.”
Shelton was on the ground in Vietnam as an infantryman. Like so many others, he suffered unspeakable loss.”We lost 22 — killed — probably out of 135 people. We went 40 years without talking about it, without writing about it, without doing anything,” he said. Its why, more than 45 years later, Saturday’s memorial still meant so much.
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett was one of the many who attended the event. “I mean it with all my heart” he said. “I owe everything I have in my life but my salvation to the men and women who wore our country’s uniform.”
Vietnam Veterans of America’s local president Don Smith said anti war sentiments during the war left thousands of veterans unacknowledged after returning home. “The veterans coming back from Vietnam certainly weren’t treated the way they should’ve been treated,” he said.
“There had been assaults upon military personnel that had returned,” agreed veteran Charles Kirkpatrick. “And we were advised to just kind of blend in with society.” Blending in wasn’t easy for Kirkpatrick, though. He said his wife and friends had trouble relating to him after the war.
“They suffered the brunt of my change in my disposition.”
It’s why veterans like him, as well as their spouses and children alike, all reveled at the chance to honor those whose lives were forever changed.