HEART OF STEELE
If there was a dry eye in the house during last week’s Quilts of Valor ceremony at Torey’s in downtown Owatonna, I didn’t see it.
Of course, I was pretty busy trying to swallow past a big lump in my own throat.
Watching volunteers wrap hand-made quilts around men who sacrificed so much made me feel grateful to live in a community where people remember the debt we owe to those who have given up years of their lives to ensure our safety and freedom. The Exchange Club of Steele County deserves a lot of credit for taking on this challenge each year.
But the club is going a step further as well, by joining in a movement to welcome home Vietnam veterans.
I was a teenager when that war ended, but I clearly remember my mother turning off the television set when news coverage flashed across the screen. My siblings and I were too young to watch, she said.
This was the first war literally broadcast into American living rooms. For the first time, we saw soldiers crawling through the jungle, we saw the firefights and the bombings, the wounded and the dead.
While World War veterans were welcomed home in victory, there was no “win” in Vietnam. And the soldiers who came home were often subject to harassment and a constant barrage of negative news, in addition to suffering physical injuries and psychological effects of combat. Vietnam veterans were also exposed to harmful chemicals that caused them serious health problems later in life.
These men and women had nothing to do with the ugly politics around the war, but they certainly suffered for it, as did their families.
Perhaps because this war was such a big part of my early life, I was thrilled to hear that the Exchange Club has become a Commemorative Partner with the Department of Defense Vietnam War Commemoration. Locally now, we have a group of people dedicated to making sure our local veterans get the recognition they deserve.
I hope everyone in our community will join this effort so that we can, with one voice, say from the heart, “Thank you, and welcome home.”