SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A heroes welcome home that’s long overdue.
For the past couple of years, the United States government and members of Congress have been trying to right a wrong by recognizing Vietnam veterans who never got the welcome home they so deserved.
Tuesday, several Vietnam veterans from South Dakota were honored at a special pinning ceremony in Brookings.
“This is not a medal for combat bravery this is an acknowledgment that the welcome home for all people in uniform was not as it should have been,” Congressman Dusty Johnson said.
Today in Brookings at a special ceremony, a handful of Vietnam veterans received a special coin and lapel pin from Congressman Dusty Johnson as a small token of our appreciation for all they’ve done.
“A grateful nation, thanks and honors you for your service,” Congressman Johnson said.
Joe Gilpin served in the Navy from 1968 to 1972 as a radioman. He says he enjoyed serving his country and thinks others should too.
“Join, join the service, you will not regret it even if it’s only for two years, just be a part of the community, this country is here because of servicemen and it continues, just join, period,” Gilpin said.
But others have tried to forget what they experienced.
Merle Niemann served in the Air Force from 1962-1966. He was on board an aircraft along with several others that was nearly shot down after taking 33 bullets.
He says one of the cables that controls the aircraft had been severely damaged.
Niemann still gets emotional talking about it decades later.
“It was a seven by seven cable and two strands of one that was holding, the Lord took us home,” Niemann said.
It’s heroic stories like that, that the U.S. now wants to recognize, noting it’s never too late.
“It is an opportunity to say thank you and welcome home,” Johnson said. “Because when you have made a mistake like our country has made, I think it is important to apologize and to make amends and you are giving us an opportunity to do that today.”
Congressman Johnson says his office has now handed out 300 coins and lapel pins to Vietnam veterans from South Dakota thanking them for their service.