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Saturday’s Christmas parade held special meaning for a select group of veterans.
This group of Vietnam vets who rode in the “Deuce and half” (a 2.5-ton Army truck) said seeing hundreds of cheering people smiling and waving at them was an experience that other veterans coming home take for granted these days.
But it wasn’t that way for them, coming home from Vietnam in the 1960s to an atmosphere of extensive antiwar demonstrations, to an American public who not only didn’t respect them, but also disdained them.
“When we landed in Louisville in 1967, I was spit on, can you believe it, spit on,” said Barry Campbell, a Marine Corps veteran who lives in Spencer County and belongs to the VFW Post 1179 in Shelbyville.
“But I just ignored it; what else can you do?” he said “Besides, I was numb anyway. I had more important things on my mind, like trying to figure out how to get back to being the person I used to be, the person who went to Vietnam as a Christian not believing in killing, to the person who had to make a decision real quick to kill or be killed.”
Linn Cassedy, a Marine Corps veteran from Bagdad, said when he got back to the States in 1970, his welcome wasn’t hostile – it was nonexistent.
“We got off the plane in California, and I was so glad to be home, I could have got down and kissed the earth,” he said. “But there were no crowds there to meet us. There was nobody there, absolutely nobody.”
Cassedy said riding in the parade Saturday gave him a really good feeling.
“It’s a good feeling to know that people appreciate what you did for your country,” he said. “We didn’t get that when we got home from Vietnam.”
Jamie James, advocate for the Shelbyville post, was the driving force behind rounding up the military vehicle for the vets to ride in and getting them included in the parade.
“She put the whole thing together, and organized it, and it meant a lot to the guys,” Post Commander Roger Green said. “She has such a passion for helping the veterans. Some of us didn’t get a very good welcome when we got home from ‘Nam, so we were glad to get to ride in the parade and be honored,” he said.
James said it meant a lot to her to see the smiles on the faces of the Vietnam vets as the crowd cheered and waved to them.
“It was something to see. It really was a Christmas miracle; it was my Christmas gift to them,” she said. “It really touched my heart when Linn came up to get in [the truck] and he had on the same boots he had on in Vietnam.”
Cassedy said he figured it was time to bring his combat boots out of retirement one last time.
“I put them in a box when I came home, and this is the first time since then that I’ve had them on,” he said.
Cassedy also wore his old combat jacket as well in the parade. He chuckled ruefully as he talked about an old photograph he had shared with James.
“It was a picture of me and two other guys, taken in our bunker in Danang,” he said. “We were always having to dive in there, so we figured, hey, since it was our home, we’d just have our picture taken in it, and send it back home for a Christmas card.”
Campbell said for him, even though riding in Saturday’s Christmas parade was a “wonderful feeling,” it gave him a sense of déjàvu.
“Life goes in cycles, you know? When I got home, I was numb, and riding in the parade, I was happy, but I was numb again.”