A Vietnam Vet

Welcomed Home at Last

-       Ian Dawson, Rat Pack “34”


The Vietnam draft was a dark cloud threatening to descend upon anyone without a plan in 1967. I didn’t have much of plan, other than seeking a job deferment. When that failed, I joined the Army Reserves, only to watch the unit disbanded.


The Army’s warrant officer flight program was much more appealing to me than wading through rice paddies. Fresh out of flight school 16 months later, I was on a Boeing 707 bound for Saigon. A helicopter gave me a 45-minute ride up to Tay Ninh, home of the 187th Assault Helicopter Company. A few days later I was co-piloting a Huey in a flight of 10, transporting troops to landing zones.


I soon realized, after a few memorable incidents, that stopping to drop off and pick up troops in hot LZs could be a bit dangerous. So, I took an opportunity to transfer to the gunship platoon, and then the fun began.


A Freedom Bird took me home 365 days later. One day you’re in a war zone and the next you’re in hometown USA. It was quite an adjustment, and almost nobody cared two hoots about where you had been or what you had done. That was 1969.


Fast forward to the 2007 Veterans Day parade in Portland. The 187th “Crusaders” have had a Veterans Day Reunion since 1999, and Portland was selected for 2007, making it difficult for me not to go. Our reunion encompassed four days of events, including a banquet, trips to the Evergreen Aviation Museum and Veterans Memorial, and finishing with participation in the Veterans Day Parade.


The “Big-Little” Veteran’s Day Parade was described by The Oregonian as a small eight-block parade, organized and held because of the efforts of one lady. We didn’t know what to expect. This is the event I would just have soon passed up, as I had this vision of a gaggle of old warriors bursting the seams of veteran flight suits as they tried to stay in step.


The forecasted rain occurred at night, giving us a cool, dry day. At the Hollywood District staging area we saw an impressive assembly of marching bands, senior citizen baton twirlers, vintage Army vehicles, military units, the Boy Scouts, senators and other dignitaries. 


Our parade banner read “Welcome Home.” How odd, I thought, 38 years after coming home.  Ready to begin, we could see a movement of flags several blocks in front of us. It took another 20 minutes before we started moving, all 200 of us. Bystanders began enthusiastically applauding, saying “THANK YOU” for our service. Further down the route a young soldier in desert fatigues stood by the curb holding a rigid salute. One of our guys peeled off to shake his hand, followed by another dozen of us. That began a general hand-shaking routine to all vets watching us go by.


One yelled out his thanks with “You guys saved my ass!”.  Others had tears in their eyes, which brought tears to our eyes. It was a very special time that touched us all. At the end of the parade some of us enjoyed coffee provided by the Salvation Army. Several from 25th Infantry Division (whom we supported over there) joined us for a time of reminiscing.


“Welcome Home”, indeed. It was a weekend not to be forgotten.