By WNPA Olympia News Bureau and The Dispatch
After what some felt was moving testimony about the realities experienced by military veterans was delivered by Vietnam War veteran Gill Calac Feb. 6, the House Government Operations and Elections Committee approved a bill that recognizes March 30 as Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day in Washington.
The committee members unanimously approved House Bill 1319 and recommended that it be passed by the Legislature. That, along with approval by the Senate and the governor’s signature, would authorize the annual recognition.
Rep. Norm Johnson (R-14th District/Yakima) was approached by the Yakama Warriors Association to introduce the legislation that would require the National League of Families’ POW/MIA flag be flown by public entities every year on March 30.
Though soldiers in the Vietnam War received heated criticism from anti-war advocates during the war itself, Johnson believes that it is time for Washington to pay its respect to those who risked their lives for a national cause.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau statistics, there are about 7 million Vietnam veterans in the U.S. More than 220,000 are estimated to live in Washington.
“They were portrayed as baby-killers, war-mongers and other things,” he said. The way the veterans were treated, he said, “was, perhaps, the cruelest aspect of that war.”
An official day honoring Vietnam vets would be welcomed by Jody Johnson, commander of American Legion Post 148 in Eatonville.
“These folks gave more than most people realize, and I make it a point, whenever I meet a Vietnam veteran, to offer my hand and tell them two things that a lot did not hear: Thank you and welcome home,” said Johnson. “The way they were treated is, to the majority of us, a black mark on our society.”
Johnson, who isn’t related to the legislator from Yakima, thanked “those who are responsible for making (Vietnam Veterans Day) happen.”
Johnson, an Iraq war-era veteran, said all military veterans are “fighting for some basic things that are well-deserved and past due for those Vietnam veterans.”
Calac, a member of the Yakama Warriors Association, testified in support of the bill, thanking Rep. Johnson for bringing it forward.
“Closure is important,” Culac said. “Closure helps us put away the guilt, the shame, grief, and the huge betrayal issues brought up by the anti-protestors. These scars will never be forgiven.”
To potential critics of the legislation, Calac said, “We are not glorifying wars. Let’s just say to our Vietnam veterans, ‘Welcome home.’”
Of the more than 58,000 U.S. soldiers who died in Vietnam, 1,123 were from Washington.
Calac urged lawmakers to not pass the bill for political advancement. “Don’t make this a political issue,” he said. “Don’t support this for the votes. Support this bill and make our state proud. We earned it, we believe in it. Give us that respect.”
The Yakama Warriors Association attempted to have Congress pass similar legislation last year, but Calac said politics got in the way.