Tahlequah, Okla.—The Vietnam War was so unpopular that the veterans were often received with indifference and sometimes even open hostility when they returned home after honorably serving their country. In an attempt to rectify those unfortunate events, Congress recently passed a resolution to observe Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day on March 30th.
The day marks the anniversary of the withdrawal of United States troops from Vietnam in 1973.
In recognition of the sacrifices these men and women made, the City of Tahlequah, Oklahoma and Northeastern State University joined with other entities across the country to observe Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.
The Vietnam conflict claimed the lives of more than 58,000 members of the U.S. services, with more than 300,000 wounded. Per capita, the American Indian community has the highest record of service in the armed forces compared to other ethnic groups. During Vietnam 226 American Indians died, not counting those who were not federally recognized as Native by the government.
City officials and NSU hosted an open house at the local Blackfox-Hartness American Legion Post 135.
Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.), member of the Senate Committee of Veterans’ Affairs, and Representative Linda Sanchez in the House introduced the resolution.
“NSU contacted me and Major Jason Jenkens, head of the ROTC department, and asked our advice on what we should do. We decided to have a reception to honor the veterans of Cherokee County in Tahlequah who served during the Vietnam era and any other veterans in the area who would like to come by and help us,” said Tony O’seland, who is an English lecturer at NSU, a Vietnam-era Navy veteran and the post commander. “We are not honoring one person, or a group of people, but rather the entire generation that served in Vietnam.”
The Blackfox-Hartness American Legion Post 135 in Tahlequah is named after two Natives who died during the conflict, Robert Blackfox and Roger Dale Hartness.
“It is what we classify as the traditional American Indian Post, as it’s named after two of our Nation members from the area,” O’seland continued. “The majority of our members are, if not card carrying American Indians, at least members of one Nation or another.”
According to O’seland, the prejudice against Vietnam vets extends to members of the American Legion.
“Our post was founded as a response to the other post in the area which had difficulty with the concept of Vietnam Veterans being American Legion members,” he said. “There’s a hierarchy, even though the American Legion itself clearly states in its documents that there is no rank and there is no hierarchy, that we are all comrades together, it’s still a social organization, and there’s always going to be some decent at some level. It was simply easier for the Vietnam Veterans to establish their own post. We have taken in Veterans not just from the Vietnam period, but also from Granada and the Middle East. Anybody who has served the required tour of duty or the time frame in the military that is eligible for American Legion service is welcomed here.”
O’seland hopes Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day becomes an annual event.