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Vietnam vets receive delayed welcome

ST. PAUL - Minnesota's Vietnam War veterans returned to a cold shoulder, but state leaders say that now will change.

"The fact that the country did not welcome them home is shameful," Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Thursday afternoon before signing into law a bill setting aside March 29 as Vietnam Veterans' Day.

Bill authors Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, and Sen. Dan Skogen, DFL-Hewitt, were joined by other lawmakers, veterans and veterans' families during the bill-signing ceremony in Pawlenty's office.

"Those veterans came home to a different America," said Skogen, who watched as Pawlenty signed the second-year senator's first-ever bill that lawmakers approved. "There were no parades."

Howes said that during a June 27, 1967, Minnesota Twins baseball game 150 Minnesotans were sworn into the Marine Corps. That was a good start for Minnesotans going to the war, he said. "It is time for Minnesotans to finish it."

Pawlenty said one of the reasons he supports the bill is a conversation he held with a Vietnam veteran in Hastings last Veterans' Day. It was during the vet's first-ever Veterans' Day event, the governor said.

"He said he didn't feel comfortable and he didn't feel welcome until now," Pawlenty added.

March 29 was picked because that was the day American troops withdrew from Saigon, ending the Vietnam War 35 years ago this Saturday.

Minnesota is home to about 147,000 Vietnam veterans; another 1,072 Minnesotans died there.

"We are grateful to each and every one of you," Pawlenty said.

Since Saturday is so near, the state has not had a chance to plan any activities, Pawlenty said, but he hopes there are some in future years.

However, several communities already have events planned. New York Mills and Perham Veterans of Foreign Wars chapters, for instance, have events scheduled to honor Vietnam veterans. So does Ironworld in Chisholm.

A major Vietnam veterans' "welcome home" event is planned for June 9, 2009.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.