For decades, Carpentersville resident Robert Roudebush hid the fact that he had served two tours of duty in the Vietnam War.
But on Thursday, Roudebush stood proudly in front of hundreds of visitors at the opening ceremony of the "Healing Fields - a Welcome Home Tribute to Our Vietnam Veterans," on display through Memorial Day in Carpenter Park in Carpentersville.
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"I hate to say it, but it is about time," Roudebush said. "I came home after two tours in November 1969 and I couldn't wait to get out of my uniform; it was a disgrace to be in that uniform ... I didn't tell anyone and kept it to myself for decades. Now, we can be proud of it."
The Patriot Committee of Dundee Township organized the healing field to honor to 1,748 veterans determined missing in action or prisoners of war. The memorial also serves to amend the second-rate treatment of veterans returning from the Vietnam War, said committee Chairman Jerry Christopherson.
"If it has taught us one thing, it is that we must show them respect and treat them with dignity, even if we don't agree (with the war)," Christopherson told the crowd. "They gave up their tomorrow so that we could have ours."
Village President Ed Ritter called the event "ironic."
"We are participating in one of the proudest moments in Carpentersville," Ritter said. "But on the other hand it is to right one of the saddest wrongs in our country's history. It is a great event for now righting a wrong of the past."
Flags for the Carpentersville Healing Field are on sale for $40 each and will display an oversized dog tag that includes the person's name, rank and branch of service. Individuals may also dedicate the flag to a past or current member of the military. Proceeds from the flag sales will benefit the Boys and Girls Club of Dundee Township.
The five-day event, which began Wednesday with the placement of the flags, continues through Monday.
The Healing Field opens at 9 a.m. each day. On Sunday, a parade will step off at 5 p.m. from 2 E. Main St., and march to Carpenter Park. As the parade wraps up, a United States Air Force flyover is scheduled for 5:45 p.m., weather permitting. Community and youth groups will join Vietnam War Veterans in the parade.