Why This Vietnam Vet Just Got a Surprise Welcome Ceremony, 50 Years Later
A phone call between two military men, one active and one retired, planted the seed which grew into a surprise ceremony to honor a Vietnam veteran.
"When I got [his] phone call, I was thrown off," said Major Jeff Hickman, the Public Affairs Officer for the Hawaii Department of Defense. The man who called is named Tom Peterson, a veteran of the Vietnam War, and the subject of the call was a set of dog tags that Peterson had lost. When were the dog tags lost? Well, in 1969. That was when Peterson arrived in Oahu, Hawaii from Vietnam after nine months of service.
Major Hickman and Peterson talked for a while, and the older man shared that when he returned from war, no one was there to meet him. It was late at night when he landed in Oahu, and there is also the fact that the Vietnam War was widely unpopular.
"That's one of the most controversial wars our country has had," said Major Hickman. Of the returning soldiers, who would normally be greeted with gratitude and celebration, he added: "They didn't get that welcome back."
Major Hickman wanted to fix that for Peterson. So he told the veteran that they would make a new set of dog tags for him, and invited the 76-year-old to come pick them up when he came to Hawaii.
Waiting for Peterson when he showed up was a group of people there to honor him and his service, making up for the lack of welcome he had received back in 1969. "I was overwhelmed," Peterson said, "because that was the first real greeting I had when I came home."