NORMAN, OK (KSWO) -Active duty and retired Fort Sill soldiers escorted Vietnam veterans in a well-deserved and long overdue welcome home ceremony in Norman.
Norman's Veteran Center and the Oklahoma Department of Veteran's Affairs teamed up to make the homecoming possible. As Vietnam veterans were escorted into their welcome home ceremony, a room inside the veteran center in Norman was filled with both cheers and tears. This ceremony was the complete opposite of what they experience more than 40 years ago.
Jeannene Wade, the program administrator, says she felt compelled after hearing one of their stories...she says one veteran told her the biggest hurt he experienced while in the military was when he came home from Vietnam and was spit on instead of getting a hero's welcome.
"It's belated, well overdue and cannot be said enough, welcome home. Thank you for your service, we appreciate you," said Darin Corbett, one of the speakers.
That was one of the many tokens of gratitude expressed to the veterans for all they did for their country but were never recognized for.
Vietnam veteran Larry Shalbert says when he came home from the war so many years ago, it was nothing like the long overdue welcome home ceremony they had Thursday.
"It was wonderful, I wiped tears from my eyes a couple times. I didn't expect this at all," Shalbert said.
He says he didn't receive anything like this when he came home from the war in his early 20s. The welcome he got was doors being shut in his face and getting spit on for serving his country. He says he missed his friends and family while he was at war and never imagined his welcome home would be so heartless.
"I was ready to get home. It felt wonderful to get back and then to be treated that way. It was, it was kind of cold. You got a bitter response out of it," Shalbert said.
Even though they weren't recognized for their service, Vietnam vets still attended welcome home ceremonies for other soldiers. David Drozd, an Afghanistan veteran who spent a short time training at Fort Sill, helped escort the veterans to their ceremony. He spends every day at the veteran center trying to brighten their days and show his appreciation.
"They should be appreciated. Us as Americans, we need to support them in every way for what they did because it wasn't there, you know, they didn't want to do that. They did it because they wanted to defend our country. So, I just feel like a day like today is a great remembrance for what they have done for our country," Drozd said.
Once Shalbert was home, he wanted to leave town because of the response from the people he went to war to protect, but he knew it was going to be like that everywhere, so he stayed. Even though he didn't receive a welcome like this more than 40 years ago, receiving it now helps.
"Well, it gives you some closure, it makes you feel like you didn't waste your time," Shalbert said.
Approximately 7 million Vietnam veterans are still alive, and not all of them have been properly welcomed home.