WATERVILLE — It’s a second chance for Mainers to give Vietnam veterans the homecoming they deserve.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, June 14, scores of Vietnam veterans will march westward across the Two-Cent Bridge and arrive to well wishers and a 21-round howitzer salute.

The Vietnam Veteran Homecoming was planned by three veterans: Kennebec Sheriff Randy Liberty, Col. Jack Mosher of the Maine Army National Guard and Peter Ogden, director of Maine Veteran Services.

Ogden served three tours of duty in Vietnam during the late 1960s and early 1970s. He said Vietnam veterans were often scorned when they returned home or worse.

“We got blamed for the war, like it was our fault,” he said. “It wasn’t our fault. The men and women who served were doing their job as their country asked.”

Mosher, who served in Afghanistan from 2003-04, said returning veterans are treated very differently today than they were in the 1960s and ’70s.

“I was applauded when I got off the plane, and I was applauded again when I entered the airport,” he said. “It’s hard to even imagine what it would be like to come back and be scorned or disparaged. I can’t imagine the devastation that some of these veterans suffered over the years.”

Mosher said the warm reception that younger veterans feel is partly because of a shift in consciousness in America.

“It’s a reconciliation for the injustice that was levied against the Vietnam veterans when they came home,” he said. “I think it’s universally accepted now in our culture that you can support soldiers and service members even if you’re not necessarily supporting international foreign policy.”

Now it’s time to pay the Vietnam veterans back, Mosher said.

“It’s a chance for all of us to correct an injustice in American history, and maybe bring some healing to veterans,” he said.

The homecoming is the first in a 13-year series of annual events planned for other communities throughout Maine. During the next decade and beyond, the events will mark the 50th anniversaries of service members returning home after serving tours between 1961 and 1975. There are 46,000 Vietnam veterans living in the state.

“We won’t stop until we’ve recognized every one of them,” he said.

On June 14, veterans can register for the homecoming at 5 p.m. in Winslow, at the gazebo near the town office. At 5:50, bagpipers from Maine State Police will lead the veterans down the pathway to the Two-Cent Bridge. Then at 6, the veterans will march one at a time toward Waterville, where they will be greeted by Mayor Karen Heck and others, Mosher said.

Mosher estimates more than 100 veterans will participate. He hopes at least as many townspeople will attend. He also hopes the idea will spread to cities throughout the nation.

“Some of these guys came home, put their uniforms in their closets and never talked about it again,” he said. “We want them to come out and be properly recognized for their service.”

For more information, contact Peter Ogden at 430-6035.

Ben McCanna — 861-9239

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