Organizers of Vietnam Veterans’ tribute to include anti-war rallies

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VVAW Veterans Day march - New York City 1975

Fayetteville’s 10-day tribute to Vietnam veterans this fall should portray a complete picture of the era and its impact on the city – including opposition to the war, the mayor says.

“This is not just a Chamber of Commerce rah-rah event,” Mayor Tony Chavonne said. “We want it to have substance.”

By Michael Futch at the FayObserver.com

The anti-war rallies on Fort Bragg’s doorstep remain a difficult memory for many Vietnam veterans. But organizers of the city’s first Heroes Homecoming in November want to include all the chapters in the nation’s history from that time.

“It is an important part of the story we’re trying to tell,” Mayor Tony Chavonne said.

Chavonne and about 40 people met Wednesday to discuss ideas and events planned for November. Heroes Homecoming is meant to give Vietnam War veterans “the homecoming that they never received,” Chavonne said.

The group included military veterans, bikers, city leaders, community members and representatives from local organizations. The Quaker House, a peace organization that started in Fayetteville during the Vietnam years, was invited to participate.

Anchored by Veteran’s Day, Heroes Homecoming is planned across the city from Nov. 4 through Nov. 13. Chavonne reported that 60 events already were booked over the 10-day affair.

“This is not just a Chamber of Commerce rah-rah event,” he said. “We want it to have substance.”

Melissa Rivera, who is leading the public relations for Heroes Homecoming, said more than 200,000 troops trained at Fort Bragg before leaving for duty in Vietnam. That, she said, gives Fayetteville a unique connection for the many stories that can be told. “This is a national event,” she said. “This has potential to be huge.”

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Much of the homecoming will honor the American service members from the Vietnam War era. Military members who served in Vietnam, once it escalated in the 1960s, have long felt they were unfairly tarnished from their involvement in a war that proved unpopular at home.

With the patriotic soldier and family in mind, planned activities include a Vietnam Wall traveling memorial, a wreath-laying ceremony, tributes to local Vietnam veterans and the nurses who served, and the rededication of a Vietnam War Memorial on Fort Bragg.

But as envisioned by Chavonne and other organizers, the homecoming also will include perspectives from native Vietnamese, homeless Vietnam veterans and anti-war protesters.

“We’re part of that story,” said Chuck Fager, director of the Quaker House.

The organization is a military counseling center supported mostly by pacifists and peace activists. It has survived in this conservative military town for 41 years.

The day before the meeting, Fager said he was appreciative that Chavonne had extended an invitation to the Quaker House to be a part of the celebration. But Fager said he was in favor of being part of “a full-fledged conversation of the Vietnam War.”

“Somebody has got to say, we did lose that war,” he said Tuesday. “Whatever you think about it, that was a time of great upheaval in the country and at Fort Bragg. I’ve read that it was one of the darkest periods in history for the military – Vietnam and its aftermath. I know a lot of people don’t like to be reminded about it. I don’t know how we can be involved without telling those things.”

During the meeting Wednesday, Fager presented a list of potential programs including discussions, educational presentations and a series of films that give a different viewpoint of Vietnam.

Two of the proposed films, the anti-war “Coming Home” and “FTA,” feature actress Jane Fonda.

Fonda voiced her opposition at the height of the war. In 1970, she led demonstrators onto Fort Bragg and attempted to hand out anti-war leaflets. Military police escorted her and other demonstrators off the post.

Later, an estimated 2,000 protesters gathered in Rowan Park for a peaceful protest.

“We are not setting out to be her advocate here,” Fager said. “Jane Fonda did come to Fayetteville three times.”

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