Not every member of the armed forces who served overseas received a warm reception when they came home.
The Tulsa City Council wanted to make sure that local veterans got the recognition they deserve.
Mayor Dewey Bartlett, City Council members and U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine joined about 30 veterans, many of whom served during World War II and the Korean War, for a gathering Tuesday at American Legion Post No. 1. Each veteran received a certificate of a proclamation in honor of their service.
Bridenstine, a Navy veteran, recalled a time he spent in South Korea in 2001. From a watchtower, he and an interpreter could see and hear messages saying, “Come to North Korea, the land of opportunity,” and “Come to North Korea, our generals are better than your generals,” he said.
“That sounds funny to those of us who are from the United States of America because we don’t fight for generals. We don’t fight for autocrats and we don’t fight for men,” Bridenstine said. “We fight for institutions, we fight for the rule of law, we fight for the Constitution and we fight for the Bill of Rights.
“We fight for the freedom to assemble, the freedom to worship, the freedom of speech — these are the things that make us unique in the world, and it is the leadership of the United States that has advanced these ideas across cultures and throughout time,” he said.
Bartlett, a former Air National Guard member, noted that decades ago, veterans made up a majority of the U.S. House and Senate. Only a fraction of today’s Congress has served, he said.
It’s a fact that underscores how many citizens take for granted the nation’s freedoms, Bartlett said.
“We must support the military — the entirety of the military,” he said. “We have to encourage those who are veterans and those who aren’t veterans to join the military and to help wave the flag — wave that beautiful flag — whenever we can, and say that this is what our humanity is all about: those freedoms, that flag, our country, our military.
“If we don’t do that, we do at our peril,” Bartlett said.
The fervor to support the military has increased significantly over recent years, Raymond Perkins said, who served with the 13th Jungle Air Force in the South Pacific from October 1942 to October 1945.
“Anymore, it’s a big deal, and I appreciate that,” he said. “And I think all veterans do.”
It’s not that veterans expect a parade when they come home — the war came as a shock, and when the call went out to Perkins and millions of other soldiers, they answered, he said.
“They gave us a job to do and we did it,” Perkins said. “We came home and took over our normal lives. We didn’t have any big fanfare about it; we just did it.”
Thomas White, who served in the Army’s 103rd Infantry Division in Germany in 1944, echoed the sentiment.
“Myself, I just did my job and I didn’t expect any praise for it,” he said. “I certainly appreciate the people here today honoring us.”
When White’s group got home in January 1945, people from all over came out to greet them. That wasn’t the case for everyone.
Everyone who served in the 594th Field Artillery Battalion during the Korean War, like Kenneth Hearrell, a radio operator from June 1953 to April 1955, came home individually. It was nice to be a part of Tuesday’s ceremony, he said.
It was especially tough coming home for Vietnam War veterans. Gordon Folsom served from 1969 to 1971 in the 824 Security Police Squadron out of Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan. Aside from getting spit on and having people calling the soldiers out of Vietnam “baby killers,” Folsom and his comrades didn’t get much recognition, he said.
“The first time people thanked me for my service, that was 15 years after,” Folsom said. “It was just shocking.”
Folsom recalled coming home after a 14-hour nonstop flight over the Pacific and coming upon “the world” — the United States — with his fellow military members, who erupted in cheer at the sight of the California coast.
“To not serve would’ve been a shame,” he said.
Originally Posted on TulsaWorld.com