50 years later, Vietnam War veterans finally get a fitting welcome home

“I think it’s very special because we’ve never really had it before.”
Published: Mar. 29, 2023 at 10:06 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 29, 2023 at 11:24 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It was 50 years ago that the U.S. military ended its involvement in Vietnam. And on this day, there was a sense that the veterans who served in that war were finally being welcomed home.

“I think it’s very special because we’ve never really had it before,” said Vietnam veteran Edward Cruikshank, as he watched a parade in Waikiki commemorating Vietnam War Veterans Day.

The parade down Kalakaua Avenue felt similar to those for World War II veterans, complete with salutes to the different service branches, marching bands, and appreciative spectators.

That’s something Vietnam veterans didn’t get when they returned home in the 1960s and ‘70s to widespread protests against the war.

“I know people in my family who have told me stories, and all the stories I heard weren’t so great, the way our veterans were treated,” said Sia Tonga, a Laie resident who was also a parade announcer fronting the International Marketplace.

“Now, we have this for the Vietnam veterans, and it’s very special to them,” Cruikshank said. “And when you look at the big picture, we don’t have much time left, so we love it.”

Most of those who served in Vietnam are now in their 70s or even 80s.

National Vietnam War Veterans Day was created by law in 2017, and is commemorated every March 29, the day the last American combat troops left Vietnam.

It’s also a time to remember those who lost their lives. A new six-foot tall memorial was unveiled Wednesday at the West Hawaii Veteran Cemetery, honoring 15 service members from that area who were killed in the war.

The government said a total of 276 Hawaii servicemembers lost their lives in Vietnam.

“A lot of the Vietnam war is not mentioned. It’s like the forgotten war. Like Korea was, too, for that matter,” said Vietnam veteran Mark Webster.

But today, Vietnam -- and those who served -- weren’t forgotten.

Dale Krueger, a visitor from Minnesota, said his uncle was a Vietnam Veteran who now lives in Wisconsin.

“I’ve been taking pictures,” Krueger said. “He would be in tears. He as my Godparent. I love him to death and it was phenomenal what he did.”

“I think we just owe a debt of gratitude to those who were willing to serve, especially those that didn’t get the appreciate that they deserved way back when,” Tonga said.