Vietnam veterans welcomed home with commemoration marking anniversary of war’s end
Stars and Stripes May 12, 2023
WASHINGTON — It’s been more than 55 years since veterans Bill Trump and Ken Wondrack served in the Vietnam War.
But on Thursday in front of hundreds of people near the National Mall, the two men were honored for their military service and sacrifice. The experience was vastly different from when they returned home from the war.
“I can’t tell you the crap I got called. People hated us,” said Wondrack, who joined Marines 1963 and served in Vietnam from 1965-66.
Trump said full water bottles were thrown at him in 1968 when he got back to the United States. And he was called a baby killer.
“At that time, I did not know about the protests back home,” said Trump, who was drafted out of high school in 1966 and served in the Army. “It was not something we were aware of. But now they give us water bottles.”
The ceremony honoring the two men is part of a three-day “Welcome Home” commemoration to honor Vietnam veterans and mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of Paris Peace Accords in 1973 that ended the war. Two months after the agreement was signed, the last U.S. troops were pulled out of Vietnam.
“Fifty years may be a long time but not to them,” Naval Secretary Carlos Del Toro told veterans and attendees at the opening ceremony for the event. “Let me put it plainly, you deserve better than that. You have our respect and our support.”
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., who is the last Vietnam veteran serving in the Senate also attended the ceremony.
“Today, we are doing what should have been fifty years ago,” he said. “Welcome home. Welcome home. Welcome home!”
Along the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, 200 posters lined the walkway to honor 200 of the 58,281 service members who died during the war.
One name is Army Spc. Rosendo Montana, a Texas native who was 27 years old when he died in action in April 1970 after serving two tours in Vietnam.
His two sons, Rosendo Montana Jr., visiting from Texas, and Rolando Montana, who lives in Virginia, came to show their support and honor their father.
“This is what I get to know of my dad is a picture and his medals,” said Rolando, who was 18 months old when his father died. His brother was 4 years old.
Their father’s name is on the Vietnam Memorial Wall, and Rolando said he visits the memorial often to talk with his dad.
“It’s one place where I can find lots of peace,” he said. “I bring my five kids out and let them know what their grandfather did. They know what he did and they are definitely proud of him.”
As part of the event, Wondrack and Trump were given pins for their service.
“I knew we were going to be pinned. I just expected there would be more of us receiving it,” he said.
After returning from Vietnam, Wondrack stayed in the military and retired as an Army brigadier general with the New Jersey National Guard.
Trump returned from the war as a sergeant and spent his final five months of service at Fort Knox, Ky, where he helped bury returning dead service members.
“Parents would say, ‘How come you’re up here and our boy is in that box?” said Trump, who later served 20 years with the New Jersey State Police. “We learned how to deal with it just like we did in Vietnam.”