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Two Veterans In Reno Say They've Finally Had A Proper Homecoming

Marcus Lavergne

Fifty-one Vietnam veterans recently received a warm welcome in Reno after taking a trip with the Honor Flight Nevada  program. Some of these veterans received thanks for the very first time, more than 40 years after their service. In honor of Veterans Day, Reno Public Radio’s Marcus Lavergne has this special report.

As veterans walked down Reno’s airport terminal to baggage claim, they were greeted by applause and kind words from strangers, friends and family.

Honor Flight sent the veterans to Washington D.C. where they visited national memorials dedicated to the U.S. military.

More than 40 years ago these same veterans returned home from Vietnam battered and war-torn. Two of them remember the cold reactions they received back then. They include Jim Mueller, a petty officer first class who served in the Navy, and John Edwards, a staff sergeant who was in the Air Force.

“Well, the first time I came home there wasn’t anybody,” Mueller said, “Never any real welcome, you know? They’d spit on some guys up here that went to college, call us all kinds of names that nobody understands. Especially the ones who went there don’t want to be called something they’re not.”

“We didn’t get any support,” Edwards said. “We got support from our family; that’s where we got support.  How do you express… when you got a turn out like we got, you know, and knowing it was for us? When I came home, we got spit on. They blamed us--I don’t know why--but they blamed us.”

“When I came back from Vietnam, I started to go back to college,” Mueller added. “My instructor told me the war was wonderful, and I had lost a bunch of buddies over there. I told the guy it wasn’t, and what to do with the school, and never went back to college. I just gave that part of it up.”

When Mueller and Edwards returned home they felt misunderstood. It seemed like no one could grasp what they had been through.

“It was totally awful,” Edwards said. “How could you have a tour where wherever we showed up as soldiers, the enemy showed up at the same time? We didn’t ask them there, but they sure came.”

“[A] guy goes out and kills a bunch of people and he’s a murderer,” Mueller said. “But if you’re going to war and people die, it’s a totally different set of circumstances. I really think that’s a big part of the problem. They just don’t understand."

Through participating in the Honor Flight program, these men received the recognition that they had been denied decades ago. For Edwards, it was a step toward pushing past old wounds.

“It helped me heal a little bit,” Edwards said. “But I sure had a tough time coming through. My wife can say the same thing when we were coming through. It was a tough, tough time. I had trouble choking back the tears.”

For Mueller, visiting the memorials served as a reminder of all who’ve fought for this country, but he says recognizing a veteran doesn’t have to take a lot of time or effort:

“If you see a Vietnam veteran or any vet," he said, "shake his hand.”