4 decades later, parade honors Vietnam veterans (video)
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Anita Pallando was not afraid to shake a hand or give a hug to soldiers Saturday morning. She also stood at attention as they came through Main Street in downtown Victoria.
"It's our way of welcoming them back," said Pallando, 60, holding her sign that read "Thank You Again."
"They never got the welcoming they needed," she said.
Pallando was just one of what organizers estimate to be 10,000 people on hand to cheer on veterans during the "Parade That Never Was." The event was a celebration to commemorate those who served during the Vietnam War, which organizer Ron Kocian said was something needed.
While the parade also celebrated those who have served during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Kocian said Vietnam veterans never got the proper honor and respect they deserve.
"They got treated like crap because the war was so unpopular," Kocian said. "We knew it was time to honor their service because they never got anything like this."
Steve Heath, 64, felt the same way. A former veteran who served from 1970 through 1973, he said it was difficult coming back from the war because people didn't agree with it.
When he came out to the parade with his brother, Michael Heath, he said it moved him.
"This makes up for lost times," said Steve saluting as he saw veterans and soldiers pass by.
"When I was in high school and the veterans came, the majority of the country did not appreciate what they did," said Michael Heath. "What they did was important. Today is a great outpouring ... not only was this community impacted, but nationwide."
Along the parade by the announcer's booth was John Conkin. Originally from Aransas Pass, Conkin drove to Victoria to show his appreciation. Holding an American flag in his right hand, with his left hand he saluted those he saw.
"It means a lot," he said. "It's one thing we don't need to forget."
At a luncheon Saturday afternoon at Victoria Community Center, Mayor Will Armstrong was on hand to speak to veterans. A self-proclaimed history buff, Armstrong wanted to show his love to those who served.
"I wanted them to know they won," he said. "It took a long time but they won."
At one point during the luncheon, there was a moment of silence. Russell Smith, a former sergeant of the U.S. Marine Corps and a Vietnam veteran, bowed his head.
Smith said Saturday's parade recognizes a war effort that is equal to the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"By doing this ceremony, we understand a lot of people have our backs," Smith said.