HELENA — More than 100 people gathered in the Montana State Capitol rotunda Wednesday, to honor Montanans who served in the Vietnam War.
March 29 is “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day,” created to recognize a group of veterans who didn’t always get a warm reception when they returned from service.
“It’s always the right time to say ‘Thank you,’” said Gov. Greg Gianforte.
Gianforte read a proclamation marking the day and recognizing the roughly 36,000 Montanans who served in Vietnam. The Magpie Singers performed honor songs during the ceremony.
Bill Rich, commander of American Legion Post 2 in Helena, delivered the keynote speech. Rich served two tours of duty in Vietnam with the “Seabees,” the Navy’s Construction Battalions.
“Vietnam was an experience,” he told MTN. “It taught me a lot of things about people, it taught me things about cultures.”
He said he felt the reaction to Vietnam veterans like him beginning to shift about 20 years ago.
“I think it’s getting better,” he said.
Rich is a Scout leader, and he said events like this are important to give veterans a chance to share their experiences – especially as a new generation grows up.
“I find a lot of times the Scouts don't even understand what we did and what their grandfathers did before that,” he said. “We're losing that perspective. If we lose our sense of history, we’ve lost a lot of our country.”
As the ceremony concluded, state lawmakers read out the names of Montanans killed while serving in Vietnam. In the afternoon, the Montana House gave unanimous approval to House Resolution 3, honoring the service of Vietnam veterans.