BY SHERI TRUSTY
When Bill Sorg of Elmore was sitting on a Toledo runway, ready to depart the airplane that brought him home from the Vietnam War, a fellow passenger wishing to honor his service asked the other travelers to remain seated so Sorg could exit first. No one else cared to honor the soldier who had spent the last several months fighting in a foreign jungle, and the request was ignored.
“She apologized,” Sorg said. “I said, ‘No problem. I’m home, and no one is shooting at me now.’”
On Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day, held on Wednesday, March 29, America has the opportunity to show to Vietnam War veterans the gratitude it failed to give them 50 years ago. Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day is an annual effort to sear into the American conscience the importance of saying those two words many Vietnam War era veterans never heard: Thank You.
Ernie Hopkins was treated like an enemy when he returned home to Port Clinton after serving with an artillery unit during the Vietnam War. He was kicked out of a local diner and then a bar, and he was banned from downtown Port Clinton by a police officer, simply for being a soldier.
Hopkins eventually gathered everything he owned that was connected with the war and locked it in a closet.
“I no longer wanted to be associated with the Vietnam War,” he said.
It took years to open that door again.
“I call it coming out of the closet. I took out my field jacket first and then some other things, but I still never talked about it,” he said.
Sorg said much of the hatred returning soldiers faced was fueled by unbalanced media reports that portrayed soldiers as murderers.
“It was a nightly thing. Walter Cronkite was on the news showing what we did without showing the whole story,” Sorg said.
Today, Hopkins and Sorg proudly wear Vietnam War Veteran hats and willingly talk about their service. They share stories of all of the dangers: the unsafe drinking war; the constant threat of illness; the snakes, scorpions and leeches; and, of course, an enemy who worked tirelessly to kill them.
Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day helps open the door to those conversations.
“Lots of people don’t know what to say to a Vietnam War veteran. Just say, ‘Thank you for your service, and welcome home,’” Hopkins said. “You can tell them, ‘I’d like to thank you for my freedom.’”
Those words, said Hopkins, need to be said to everyone who served during the Vietnam War, regardless of where or how they served. Field soldiers like Hopkins and Sorg could only fight because they had a string of support workers behind them, from mechanics and cooks to supply workers and training camp instructors.
“Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day is not just about the grunts. It’s about everyone who had a part of fighting this war,” Hopkins said.
Gratitude is something Hopkins doesn’t take for granted. He remembers too clearly the rejection Port Clinton showed him as a young soldier returning home from the war.
“When I came home, I flew back by myself and got off the bus by myself. Where was the camaraderie? Where was someone to talk to? There was nobody,” he said. “I was a 20-year-old man dropped off in Port Clinton, and I had no one but people spitting on me.”