TAMPA, Fla. (FOX 13) - National Vietnam War Veterans Day falls on March 29. It’s another chance to welcome veterans home after all of these years.
"It is important that these individuals, our Vietnam Veterans, be welcomed home because many of them have never been welcomed home,” offered Jim Fletcher, the president of a Bay Area Vietnam Veterans of America chapter.
"They were shamed. You know, baby killer, drug addict, and they weren't,” recalled Linda Pugsley, who served as a nurse in the war. “A few had fallen into those holes. But very few. And then to have someone paint the whole group as that."
The cold reception many veterans received years ago left emotional scars.
"It caused a lot of anger and a lot of sadness. And it usually closed most of us up. And it took years, fifteen years or so for them to even say thank you,” Pugsley said. “They had the most devastating wounds you'd ever want to see. Over and over again."
Pugsley remembers what soldiers said when they lost limbs, became paralyzed, or worse.
"He says, 'Is my girlfriend going to love me when I go back?"
Most of the military dogs never returned home.
"Because of the dogs, we're here today. I'm here today,” said Ted Marshall, who was a dog handler in the war. “And so are about 10,000 other guys whose names are not on the wall."
He’s referring to the 10,000 soldier lives that Vietnam War dogs saved, experts said. They risked their lives as scouts and trackers so our men and women in uniform don’t have to.
"There's a special spirit that those dogs have,” Marshall continued. “A special spirit of loyalty, love, and some people ask, 'Where does that spirit come from?' It's real simple, folks. Spell 'dog' backwards."
The U.S. government didn’t pay to bring them home and many were left with the South Vietnamese who had them euthanized. It’s one of many reasons Vietnam veterans still suffer today.
"The suicide rate is unacceptable,” Marshall said. “We need to be able to reach out to them. We need to be able to let them know that there's help. And there's people who really do care about them.”
He said you can help with two simple words.
“When we come together to say thank you and to hear that from others it fills our hearts."