Charlotte County’s Military Heritage Museum celebrates Vietnam veterans

Reporter: Taylor Wirtz Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:

On Wednesday, the Military Heritage Museum in Charlotte County showed appreciation for a group of veterans who did not always receive a warm welcome upon returning to America: Vietnam vets.

The public often celebrates U.S. veterans upon returning from deployment, but that hasn’t always been the case. Vietnam vets faced a very different public reception when they returned 50 years ago. The controversial conflict that killed thousands of Vietnamese and Americans created a homecoming atmosphere of anger and blame.

It’s become common to thank veterans for their service, but many veterans of the Vietnam Era never heard such thanks.

“It was 50 years ago today that the last troops were removed from Vietnam,” said C.J. Metcalfe, a member of the Military Heritage Museum’s board of directors. “And I celebrate those veterans today because of the bad welcome home they got back in the 60s and 70s.”

“I was walking down Michigan Avenue with my wife in uniform, and I actually did get spit on,” said veteran Alfred Kolodziej.

That’s why the museum joined in a nationwide effort to give those vets the praise many never got, complete with pins, food, and access to any services they might need.

“I think the military, and, I think, our country, has learned from that,” said Gary Butler, executive director of the museum. “And what is taking place today is a lot more dedication and in recognition of our veterans, especially. Those that served in Vietnam, and Korea, to an extent, really, really didn’t get the kind of appreciation and ‘thank you’ that they deserved.”

Kolodziej and fellow Vietnam veteran Jim Ayres say days like this are why they are proud to have served.

“There’s been an awakening of civic conscience in the country by people, that they now find out that you were former military, they say ‘thank you for your service,'” Ayres said. “I’ve always said, you know, ‘Thank you for saying that, but I’m an American by birth—I was a Marine by choice.”

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