Vietnam Homecoming brings joy, closure to vets
by Staff Writer
CONCORD – Saturday was a day many Vietnam veterans thought they would never see: a day their friends and neighbors thanked them for their service.
It was a welcome home from a war that many never truly left behind.
The Vietnam Veterans Homecoming Celebration on March 31 at Charlotte Motor Speedway drew tens of thousands of veterans, family members and friends.
John Falkenbury, president of the N.C. United Service Organization, estimated the crowd at about 80,000.
He said the day far exceeded organizers’ expectations, and said it was meant to be “uplifting … a celebration of their selfless service.”
For Chris Mulcahy of Huntersville, the day was bittersweet.
“When you say ‘welcome home’ to a veteran who served in 1969, and he says, ‘That’s the first time someone welcomed me home,’ it gives you chills to hear that,” Mulcahy said.
Mulcahy served in the U.S. Navy from 1973-77. He helped build bases in southeast Asia as a “Seabee,” one of the Navy’s construction engineers. He never served in-country in Vietnam, but said he experienced the emotions of the time.
In popular culture, images of Vietnam veterans include angry protests and slurs. Now, Mulcahy said, feelings of gratitude toward today’s veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are being transferred to older veterans by a new generation.
Saturday, Mulcahy joined fellow volunteers from Purple Heart Homes, a non-profit founded by veterans which helps modify homes to accommodate disabled vets. The event gave him “a strong sense of brotherhood,” he said.
“You make an emotional connection that can bring you to tears, because of the stories you hear,” Mulcahy said.
His own experience, for example: “Serving in isolated duty situations, eight to 10 months, with nobody but your battalion, and then coming home and being rejected,” Mulcahy said. “This event is giving thousands of veterans the opportunity to connect with the people who are sharing the same emotional pains.”
Andy Anderson, of VFW Post 2423 from Indian Trail, was there with fellow members, providing information on services. As a U.S. Air Force pilot, he flew F-4 Phantom jets on reconnaissance missions in Vietnam from 1970-72.
He described flying back home, arriving in California and standing out among the flower children of the time because of his short hair.
“People just avoided you, tried to avoid making eye contact,” Anderson said.
Hundreds took turns standing by a replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall, with the names of more than 58,000 fallen troops. Some left flowers, poems and flags there.
Vietnam veteran Gary McGinnis pointed out names on the wall to his twin grandsons, Connor and Chase.
He and wife Debra now live in Michigan, but came back to the area on vacation.
“For several years when I returned, I kept myself under cover. I was rather ashamed of being in service,” he said.
Saturday, he said, was a day for him and Debra to show their 7-year-old grandsons the truth.
“I want them to understand what war is all about. You look at the names on this wall, and they were young men, about 10 years older than they are,” McGinnis said. “I want them to know that war is serious ... but that is the cost of freedom.”