Decades later, a belated welcome home for Vietnam veterans

An older veteran rose to speak the other night at a public meeting about Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget. First, he pointed to two young servicemen, both recently returned from Afghanistan. The audience rose as one and applauded.

It’s kind of story Ted Graziani enjoys hearing, even if reminds him of how he and his fellow Vietnam veterans were ignored upon their homecoming.

Ted Graziani

Ted Graziani

“We’ve learned to separate the warrior from the politics of the war,” Graziani, a former lawmaker from Ellington, told an audience Wednesday at Connecticut’s second annual “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.”

Graziani said he and his fellow Vietnam vets came home, if they were lucky, to simply be ignored by a nation deeply divided over a long war that ended one American presidency and haunted another.

“The first thing we did, as we all know, we put our fatigues away and we pretended we never served, because it wasn’t a popular thing to do,” Graziani said.

Graziani sponsored the legislation that designates March 30, the anniversary of the day the last American serviceman left Vietnam in 1973, as an annual “welcome home” day for the state’s 80,000 Vietnam veterans.

It is a day for thanks and amends for a time when the nation did not separate the sacrifice of the warrior from the politics of the war.

The governor, lieutenant governor, legislative leaders and other elected officials crowded into a hearing room in the Legislative Office Building in Hartford with dozens of veterans, some wearing patches from their days in the service.

The ceremony was simple. A four-man color guard marched into the room and presented the American and Connecticut flags, squeezing behind the lineup of politicians who waited to make brief remarks, all of a similar theme:

It was overdue.

“To all the families touched by the Vietnam war, and the casualties as well, thank you on behalf of this little state, this one of 50, from which you came and for which you served,” Malloy said. “Thank you for your service.”

Malloy said a brother served in Vietnam, as did a cousin. Most families seemed touched in ways large and small by the war.

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said every vet left a mother and father, brother and sister. Her own brother, she said, never was the same after his return from his tour of duty.

Connecticut’s war dead from the conflict: 612.

Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, who helped create a wall of honor in the LOB for the casualties of Afghanistan and Iraq, said that she always notices the Vietnam veterans in attendance at the send-off and welcome-home ceremonies accorded to Connecticut’s military units in the nation’s two continuing wars.

“Our Vietnam vets are there all the time. It’s a reminder of what they didn’t have when they came home. But it’s such an absolute support for the families and those solders who are coming home,” she said.

“To all of you Vietnam vets, we will never forget you,” she said. “We know we should have said, ‘Welcome home.’ “