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March 09. 2013 9:19PM

Welcome Vietnam veterans home to N.H.

Forty years after America's military involvement in Vietnam ended, New Hampshire is holding a special ceremony to "welcome home" the veterans of that war.

There will be bagpipes, an honor guard and speeches from a grateful nation.

The event is planned for Saturday, March 30, at 2 p.m. It will be at the New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery in Boscawen if the weather cooperates; otherwise, the New Hampshire National Guard's aviation hangar in Concord will host the gathering. Veterans, their families and the public are encouraged to attend.

Michael Horne, director of the veterans cemetery, joined the U.S. Air Force in 1975, two years after the Paris peace accords were signed that ended America's war in Vietnam. "I just missed it," he said.

But he has brothers-in-law who served over there, and they remember being advised, "You better not wear your uniform when you leave the base after you're discharged."

"It's just incredible," said Horne, who served with the New Hampshire Air National Guard after active duty and retired from the military as a colonel in 2008.

Those who served should never have borne the disfavor of those who opposed the war, Horne said.

"The military only executes the civilian policies," he said. "They're not the ones that make the decisions. They're the ones tasked to go do what they're asked to do."

It's a lesson the nation took to heart decades after Vietnam. In the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans of all political stripes have welcomed home service members with open arms.

Special day

Horne credits Al "Scout" Grow of Nashua for pushing for the law that officially proclaims March 30, 2013, as "Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day."

Grow is a Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam in 1967-68, during the Tet offensives by North Vietnamese forces.

Now a retired transit police officer, he is national president of the Purple Heart Riders and a member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

When the first Gulf War came, Grow said, he made a promise to himself: "No other service member that went off to war would ever have to go through what we did.

Another era

"We had to sneak home."

Other Vietnam vets made the same vow, he said. They became the "guardians" of these younger generations of veterans, helping them apply for benefits and making sure they get the support and appreciation they deserve.

Now it's the older vets' turn to be welcomed home, these 40-plus years later. "It means a lot," Grow said.

There's another effort in the works to recognize the Vietnam War veterans this month.

John O'Brien, an Orford forester, is an Army veteran of the Vietnam War.

On Veterans Day in 2011, U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., presented him with a second Purple Heart that he had earned in Vietnam but never received because records were lost. The recognition meant a lot, O'Brien said, and got him thinking.

"I just kind of made a promise to myself that if the opportunity presented itself, I wanted to have other veterans share the recognition that I had gotten," he said.

"Knowing how good it felt for me, I just wanted to do that for them."

Town meeting, too

When he heard about the "welcome home" ceremony set for March 30, he had an idea: "How about if I try to do something at town meeting for all the vets in town?"

So this Tuesday evening, when Orford residents gather for their annual town meeting, O'Brien will read a special proclamation honoring the 51 veterans in town he has tracked down from all conflicts, dating back to World War II.

And at the end, he'll ask for the Vietnam vets to stand, "to get some special recognition and a welcome home, something they never got when they did come home."

His effort doesn't end there. With help from Ayotte's office, O'Brien has sent letters to moderators in every New Hampshire community, asking them to hold similar moments of recognition at their own March meetings.

"Hopefully, it will catch on," he said.

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