COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Dee Albritton remembers being spit on nearly 50 years ago when he returned home from fighting in Vietnam. That made Thursday’s recognition at the South Carolina Statehouse mean so much more.
Albritton joined hundreds of other Vietnam veterans, families and politicians Thursday for the first National Vietnam War Veterans Day in South Carolina.
“We were kind of forgotten,” said Albritton who was drafted at 19. “When I came home from Vietnam, I remember coming through the airport in San Francisco being spit on and being called a baby killer.”
Many veterans talked about the stark difference between the immediate aftermath of the war and Thursday’s ceremony.
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“Our dreams are no longer night terrors anymore,” chaplain Dave DeDonato said.
Patriotic sounds and cheers filled the lawn in front of the Statehouse.
Gov. Henry McMaster read a proclamation declaring the special day. It comes a year after President Donald Trump officially signed the Vietnam War Recognition Act of 2017.
Nearly 3 million people, including 58,000 Americans, died in the decades-long war in southeast Asia, which ended in 1975.
Veterans said they returned home to a troubled country with some Americans conflicted by what many deemed a senseless war.
But on Thursday, veterans proudly wore war memorabilia, reminisced and exchanged stories about serving in the war.
Vietnam war veteran Bernie Shankman said he was drafted in 1943 and served in several conflicts including World War II and Korea. Shankman said veterans are being treated better now and the Statehouse event shows it.
“They served their country well, and I think they deserve to get everything they get,” the 95-year-old Army veteran said.