U.S. Army veteran Jose Martinez, on a trip to the nation’s capital last spring with Honor Flight Kern County, visits the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.

Photo courtesy of Zach Coco

U.S. Army veteran Don Parent fought in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive of 1968. He came home with two Purple Hearts.

Vietnam veteran Tom Svara was one of only a few cryptographers with a level of security clearance that allowed him to handle communications for the top brass.

Brothers Art and John Ramirez both served during the Vietnam era.

These men and dozens of other local Vietnam veterans — 53 in all — are scheduled to return to Bakersfield on Sunday night following a whirlwind trip to the nation’s capital through Honor Flight Kern County.

The “Welcome Home” event is scheduled for 8 p.m. at the Liberty High School gymnasium, 925 Jewetta Ave. All are invited.

“It’s important that we fill the gym and give these veterans the kind of welcome home they didn’t get upon their return from Vietnam,” said Lili Marsh, executive director of the organization that has flown hundreds of local military veterans to Washington, D.C.

Indeed, for some Vietnam vets, it isn't until they travel with Honor Flight, and find scores of people thanking them for their service to the nation, that they begin to feel comfortable about sharing their history as a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.

There's no question that the Vietnam War — the Vietnamese people call it the American War — was controversial. Many vets, including huge numbers who were drafted, say they didn't feel that the nation welcomed them home once their service was complete.

In our workaday world, it’s too easy to forget to honor those who served, and those who, as Abraham Lincoln said, “gave the last full measure of devotion."

No more, say Honor Flight organizers.

“A well-attended reception will change lives,” Marsh said.

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