KALAMAZOO, Mich.-- Dozens of people gathered in Kalamazoo Wednesday night to honor local Vietnam veterans.
Vietnam Veterans Day is observed on March 29 in most of the United States, marking the anniversary of the day the last combat troops were withdrawn from Vietnam and the last prisoners of war held in North Vietnam returned to American soil.
Michigan has not recognized the observation until this year. State Sen. Margaret O'Brien this week helped to get a resolution adopted by the Michigan Senate to recognize the holiday.
For Navy Seabee veteran Robert Swain, going to Vietnam when he was 19 years old was scary.
"It was a rude awakening," said Swain. "We [thought we knew] what we were getting into, but we didn't."
That fear was echoed by other veterans at Bronson Park on Wednesday night.
"I was scared to death," said Army veteran Ricky Meek. "I didn't know really what I was getting myself into, but I thought it was my turn to do my duty."
"I was scared," said Air Force veteran Floyd Carmichael. "I was newly married. We had only been married five months when I got my orders."
These men were just a few of the local veterans recognized as part of Vietnam Veterans Day. "We are honoring those who weren't honored before previously when they were in the Vietnam War or any war in general," said Natalia Johnston, president of the local chapter of the Children of the American Revolution. "Beforehand, there was no such commemoration. Even though these monuments were built, they were never really commemorated."
The recognition is something these veterans say is drastically different from when they first came home.
"I did get spit at and called a baby killer," said Meek. "It's been rough, but I live for those who didn't come home."
"There were protests and people throwing stuff at you, getting spit on and that type of thing," said Swain.
A wreath was laid at the Vietnam memorial, remembering those who didn't make it home. The event was something the veterans say is therapeutic.
"It's good," said Swain. "It's good for the soul."
"It's very emotional," said Meek. "I'm here with all my brothers."
"To all my brothers and sisters that served in Vietnam, welcome home," said Carmichael.
Michigan recognizing Vietnam Veterans Day is largely in part because of 11-year-old Alice Kraatz from Kalamazoo. She brought it to the attention of Sen. O'Brien that Michigan didn't previously recognize the holiday. O'Brien introduced it to the Senate, and it passed on Tuesday.