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Vietnam vets being welcomed home at last

Springfield parade part of statewide observances for those who served country.

If anybody disagrees with the state’s decision to designate March 30 as Vietnam Veterans Day, or with a local group’s plans to hold a parade for those veterans this weekend, they should speak to Ray Haney.

He came home to Springfield in 1970 from Vietnam and said he was made to feel like a criminal for answering the country’s call.

“I remember thinking when I went in, ‘I’ll be really proud to wear my uniform, the uniform of the United States Marine Corps,’ ” Haney recalled. “But I came home and was treated like I was just trash.”

In uniform, “a guy couldn’t even get a date,” he added. “Everybody thought we were murderers and baby killers.”

A series of events being held in Columbus this week to mark the state’s first commemoration of Vietnam Veterans Day, coupled with that parade for Vietnam veterans in Springfield on Saturday, is a chance to finally put things right.

Even though he’s now 62 and retired, Haney is appreciative.

“It’s time these things happen,” he said.

Enacted last year by the state legislature, every March 30 in Ohio will be known as Vietnam Veterans Day. Events in Columbus began Tuesday and will continue through Friday to celebrate the state’s first observance.

At 10 a.m. today, a panel discussion by former prisoners of war will be held at the Ohio History Center, located at Interstate 71 and 17th Avenue, followed by a panel discussion at 12:30 p.m. by women Vietnam veterans.

From 1 to 4 p.m. today, Vietnam veterans will be able to tell and record their stories at the History Center as part of a living history project.

On Thursday at the History Center, a panel discussion at 10 a.m. will address the aftermath of Vietnam. At 3 p.m. Thursday, a closing ceremony will be held at the Statehouse.

Through midnight Friday, a traveling Vietnam memorial wall will be on display at the History Center. Special exhibits also are being held at the History Center and at the Statehouse.

On Saturday in Springfield, a Vietnam Veterans Day of Remembrance will be held, beginning with a parade at 10 a.m. that proceeds south on North Fountain Avenue from the former Mercy Medical Center to Veterans Park. A ceremony will then be held in the park.

Area Vietnam veterans wishing to participate in the parade should meet in the Mercy lot at 9 a.m. Saturday, said Dave Bauer, commander of the Clark County Military Order of the Purple Heart.

This year’s events coincide with an important milestone — it’s now been 40 years since the last American combat troops left Vietnam. The country’s role in the war officially ended on March 29, 1973.

In all, 58,220 Americans died in the Vietnam War, including 62 from Clark County. At the war’s peak in April 1969, 543,400 Americans were deployed in South Vietnam.

Haney, who now lives in Champaign County and is retired from Honda, first set foot in Vietnam on Sept. 12, 1968, just a month after his 18th birthday.

“I can’t even fathom,” he said, 45 years after the fact. “I was just a kid. I had no idea what I was in for. I was patriotic and as gung ho as could be.

“I saw too many movies,” he added. “The one that got me was ‘Sands of Iwo Jima.’ ”

However, there wasn’t a single John Wayne movie that could prepare him for reality.

“They say I have PTSD,” Haney said. “My memories will be with me the rest of my life.”

But, after this week, he’ll be able to look back and also remember a time when the public finally said thanks.

“It’s better late than never,” he said.

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