Events to honor anniversary of Vietnam vets parade
Army veteran Bill Starr of Mount Prospect remembers hanging off the side of a military truck as he and thousands of his fellow soldiers paraded through the streets of downtown Chicago in 1986 during the Chicago Vietnam Veterans Welcome Home Parade.
Strangers hugged him. People handed him beers. He recalls repeatedly saluting to the 500,000 spectators, feeling a mix of emotions ranging from a party-like reunion with his old buddies to heart-wrenching moments with strangers.
"I couldn't say that I didn't shed a few tears that day, especially because there were guys in wheelchairs all beat up ... and when I jumped off the side of the deuce n' half (military vehicle), and a little old lady thanked me for my service, that got to me," said Starr, who had a 30-year military career. "It was nice to be recognized by the city. Emotionally, it was what we needed. We came back in bits and pieces from Vietnam. We didn't come back as a unit."
Now, plans are taking shape to mark the 25th anniversary of that memorable day.
Details about "Welcome Home 2011" will be announced Thursday, but the will include a series of large-scale events planned for the weekend of June 17-19, 2011 in downtown Chicago.
The plans include:
&bul; A kickoff rally at Navy Pier with a salute to veterans who recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan;
&bul; A banquet dinner with master of ceremonies Bill Kurtis and guests that include veterans, Congressional Medal of Honor recipients and current Mayor Richard M. Daley;
&bul; An interfaith invocation at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza at Wacker Drive and State Street;
&bul; A daylong concert featuring performances by Dennis DeYoung (formerly of Styx), the jazz band Kimotion, classic rock cover band ARRA, Joe Cantafia and the 101st Rock Division, and others.
&bul; An exhibit of veterans' art and photos at the Chicago Cultural Center;
&bul; A "Moving Wall" exhibit, which is the half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.
Vietnam veteran Roger McGill, who helped coordinate the 1986 parade and is now involved with Welcome Home 2011, said the events are meant not just to celebrate the anniversary, but to serve as a "passing of the torch" to the next generation of vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We sure don't want these veterans to experience what we experienced," he said in a statement.
Welcome Home 2011 is seeking sponsors, donors and volunteers. To learn more, visit www.serviceandhonor.org, call (312) 925-5506, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Even though Starr isn't part of Welcome Home 2011 committee, he already plans to take part in the commemorative events and hopes other Vietnam vets will do the same.
"I want to see as many Vietnam vets as possible," said Starr, the Commander of Mount Prospect's American Legion.