RICHMOND — When those who serve in the armed force return home from combat today, they are often embraced by their loved ones, and their communities. Yellow ribbons and blue star service banners serve as reminders to veterans and their families that they are supported. Service men and women are cheered on by volunteers at Bangor International Airport, often the first stop on U.S. soil for those returning home.

For those who served in the Vietnam War, however, that often wasn’t the case. Servicemen and women would be greeted with indifference or, in some instances, open hostility by anti-war protesters.

On Tuesday in Richmond, some local Vietnam veterans were finally given a proper welcome home.

Fifty years after the Tet Offensive, men and women representing several branches of the military were honored with a certificate and coin. For some, it opens a window to share their experience with family. Others said the recognition means more today than would have years ago.

“I really wanted this coin,” said Charlotte Forest, one of Tuesday’s honorees. “Because as a grandmother, I want this coin to go to my granddaughter who served in Afghanistan.”

Tuesday’s event at the Richmond American Legion Post was part of an initiative by Maine legislators and the Maine Bureau of Veteran’s Services to recognize Vietnam war veterans.

The event was about more than recognition, however. It was a chance for veterans to share stories, memories, and even a few laughs.

“What’s been going on the last few years means more than it would’ve back in 1969,” said John Ottum. “Somehow being a young person it wouldn’t have meant as much.”

Ottum said he often wears a hat signifying he is a Vietnam veteran. He said he’s honored by the number of people that come up today and thank him for his service.

Acting Director of the Maine Bureau of Veteran’s Services David Richmond was on hand with state Rep. Seth Berry for the ceremony.

“It would be very uncommon nowadays to live next to a veteran of recent conflict, but it was very common when I grew up to live near a Vietnam veteran,” said Richmond. “In many cases, we found out too late, but I’m happy that we’re here tonight to welcome you home.”

“I think sometimes making the present better starts with making the past better,” said Berry. “I think it was a great injustice that Vietnam era veterans were not welcomed home properly in the ’60s and ’70s.”

For Richmond and Post Commander Brenda Dearborn, the night was also about making veterans aware of the services available to them.

“We need to recognize them and on the side it gives us a chance to show the military guys what the legion is all about,” said Dearborn.

Dearborn called it an emotional event, as she remembered her two brothers who were in the thick of the conflict. That emotion is tied into her other passion of leading the legion post in Richmond. She encourages anyone who is a war-time veteran to join the legion, because of the power in numbers when it comes to advocating for veteran’s causes.

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