Saturday, January 7, 2012

When the vets came marching in

A teenaged reflection during the war in Vietnam

From time to time, as they do in real life, my musings will take me back to earlier days, special people and memories worth living anew.

I was a teen in the sixties and most of what I remember about the war in Vietnam was wishing that we weren’t there. It just didn’t seem right to send our boys off somewhere to fight for something I didn’t understand, and it was easy to get on the “Make love, not war” bandwagon, to sing antiwar songs and wear peace symbol necklaces.

Later as I grew older and, especially after I married a Vietnam vet, I was embarrassed by the way we treated these young men upon their return, many of whom probably wished as much as we did that they didn’t have to go into those godforsaken jungles.

As I was looking through my earlier work, I ran across this piece in a notebook from English class during my sophomore year of high school. Please forgive my passive voice and not-yet-developed skills as a writer. This little article “From the archives” captured a moment in history even I don’t remember. Though the grammar and syntax would be much different were I to write this piece today, I think it’s worth sharing.

Oct. 5, 1967, Galesburg, Ill.

Friday, Sept. 29, 1967 was a big day for Galesburg. It was the day the Vietnam vets would come “marching in.”

They didn’t march, however. They rode through the streets of Galesburg in cars furnished by local auto agencies.

[The vets] arrived about 2:45 p.m., 45 minutes later than their expected arrival time. The parade began at about 3 p.m.

These men were welcomed to Galesburg from Great Lakes Naval Hospital by crowds of about 8,000 people, many of whom waved flags. Some people had flags so large they hung them out windows of downtown buildings.

Two Costa [High School] boys had an extremely large flag hanging from a third story window above Bowman’s Shoe Store.

Seeing the vets was an experience I’ll never forget. When I was going home Friday afternoon, we drove by the Travelodge, where the veterans were staying. Two of them waved when we waved, and I was thrilled tremendously.

Their activities Saturday consisted of lunch at local homes, and an afternoon of bowling, miniature golf or relaxation.

I walked by two of them Friday, and when they answered my “Hello” with a cheery “Hello,” it made my spine tickle, I was so thrilled.

Saturday evening, they were guests of honor at a dance at Hotel Custer escorted by Galesburg girls. We drove by Hotel Custer at about 9:30, and it looked as if all were enjoying themselves.

Sunday the veterans were treated to a brunch at The Huddle, a visit to Carl Sandburg’s Memorial Service and a steak dinner at Harbor Lights before leaving Galesburg at 6:00 p.m.

Jan. 7, 2012

About 20 years ago, when I was taking a class on the literature of Illinois at Western Illinois University, my professor, John E. Hallwas, talked about the way memory is always reshaping itself.

As the Vietnam War ran on and after it ended, the memories I had of those days were of how poorly we treated our vets upon their return to the U.S.

I’d not just reshaped the memory of that day. I’d blocked it completely.

Finding this essay now doesn’t undo the way we did our Vietnam vets wrong, but it does make me feel thankful that on that weekend in September 1967, my hometown extended a warm welcome to this group of young men who had given so much.

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012

(Image via)


  1. Memories remind us of forgotten times, places, events & more. Nothing ring with your voice hear that I detect. Feels genuine to me.