HELENA — Despite snowy weather in Helena, around 100 people came out to the Montana State Capitol Tuesday to honor Vietnam veterans.
In 2011, state lawmakers established “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day” in Montana, commemorating the day the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam in 1973.
In Helena, the annual commemoration began with a march around the Capitol. Participants then placed a memorial wreath at the Capitol’s “Freedom Tree,” which honors prisoners of war and those missing in action.
Light snow fell all morning, but it didn’t stop the outdoor ceremonies.
“We thought this morning we were not going to be able to do the walk, but the Vietnam veterans and their family members demanded that we do the walk,” said Ray Read, director of the Montana Military Museum and master of ceremonies of the event.
The event then continued inside the Capitol rotunda. Gov. Greg Gianforte read a proclamation
“It’s always the right time to say ‘Thank you’ to those that have served this country in uniform, and it’s always a good time to teach the next generation about the sacrifice that came, that gave us the freedoms we enjoy today,” he said.
The keynote speaker at Tuesday’s event was Denise Feller, a Helena native who served as an Army nurse in Vietnam, who shared her memories of working in a combat ICU. She remembered having conversations with many Montana soldiers – and always finding they had something in common.
“I thought that was pretty neat, that they would take the time – Montanans, good old Montanans – and come and visit,” she said.
Organizers say many Vietnam veterans didn’t get the kind of welcome they deserved when they returned from the war. Feller recalled her disappointment at not being allowed to wear her uniform when she came home. Read, himself an Army Vietnam veteran, echoed that, saying he defied orders and refused to wear civilian clothes back.
Read says events like this are an important way to show Vietnam veterans the support they have.
“Denise Feller, she’s never been here,” he said. “I ran into three other people who were in the audience who had never been to one of these. They felt that they had gotten some kind of closure based on the fact that we’re welcoming them.”
This was the first time since 2019 that this annual commemoration was held as normal. Read says the event was disrupted in 2020 because of COVID and last year because of bad weather.
Read said “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day” is becoming better known across the state, with events set for Laurel and several other communities this year.