March 25, 2015

Baltimore Sun: Veterans welcome the state-wide recognition of service in Vietnam

When Arbutus resident Chuck Catterton returned from the Vietnam War in 1968, he didn’t receive a warm welcome.

The war in Southeast Asia, which until the war in Afghanistan was the longest in the U.S. history, lasted from 1961-1975. It grew unpopular among Americans as it waged on.

Veterans such as Catterton had a difficult time finding acceptance among citizens and even fellow veterans upon returning to the U.S.

“The American Legion didn’t even try to recruit us,” said Catterton, who serves as commander of the American Legion Dewey Lowman Post 109 in Arbutus. “I joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars — they weren’t ready to accept us, so I left.”

Catterton was caught off guard when he heard that the General Assembly had passed a bill on March 19 designating March 30 as Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day. The date marks the 42nd anniversary of American troop withdrawal from the war.

“It’s bringing back a lot of memories right now — it’s about time for it,” said Catterton, who served in the Navy Seabees. “It’s good to be appreciated; it’s long overdue.”

More than 58,000 U.S. troops died in the war, including 1,014 from Maryland, with more than 300,000 wounded in the conflict.

Thomas Doucette, 67, of Ellicott City, said he was “happy” to hear of the law’s passage. Doucette serves as commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Spirit of America Post No. 6458, which meets at the Bloomsbury Community Center in Catonsville.

“I didn’t get a great reception when I returned home, even from my friends and family,” Doucette said.

“There was some emotional distance because I was afraid to share what I had experienced,” he said.

Doucette, who served in the Army as a photo lab technician from 1969 to 1970, said when he first applied for membership in the Veterans of Foreign Wars in 1972 and was told he wasn’t eligible to join.

“Things have changed a lot since then,” said Doucette, adding that such groups have changed their ways, offering membership to all vets.

Kenneth Horvitz, 66, of Catonsville, called the passage of the law, “wonderful.”

“There wasn’t much recognition when I got back,” said Horvitz, a trustee at the Patapsco Council Knights of Columbus, who served in the Air Force from 1966 to 1969.

Del. Pat Young, a veteran of the War in Afghanistan, who has served as a member of the Maryland Veterans Commission since 2011, said the day serves as public acknowledgment of the service and sacrifice of Vietnam veterans.

“A lot of folks from the Vietnam War felt like they hadn’t been recognized,” said Young, a Democrat in his first term representing the new District 44B. “This is a throwback to show public appreciation to these veterans.”

The measure was passed by the House of Delegates and the state Senate unanimously as an emergency bill.

Because it received more than three-quarters of the votes from both chambers, it becomes law immediately.

It establishes the day for special commemorations to recognize “the service and sacrifice of Vietnam veterans,” according to the legislation.

The primary sponsor of the Senate bill was Democratic Sen. John C. Astle, a Vietnam veteran who represents District 30 in Anne Arundel County. The bill was crossfiled in the House of Delegates by Del. C.T. Wilson, a Democrat who represents District 28 in Charles County.

Baltimore Sun reporter Michael Dresser contributed to this story.

Originally posted on The Baltimore Sun, available here.