FBBP Welcomes Back Vietnam Veterans

Reception stirs up mixed feelings for veterans

By Michael Gonzalez Post-Tribune correspondent


HAMMOND — Though Willie Williams is a talkative father, Teikesha Williams hadn’t heard much about his service in Vietnam.

After her dad opened up a few years ago, Teikesha Williams said her view changed, too.

“I think I see (Willie Williams) differently as a man. I see him in a bigger light based on what he went through,” she said. “A lot of veterans have achieved so much in their lives despite being shunned by society.

“They really deserve this.”

A dozen Vietnam veterans joined supporters, other vets and others at Purdue University Calumet’s first Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans reception Monday. A 2007 congressional resolution tapped March 30 as a national day of recognition for the vets.

The veterans and reception guests shared stories of their time in Vietnam, the hostility they faced coming home and a change in public opinion toward the men who were once derided as “warmongers” or “baby killers.”

Willie Williams, who served in the Army First Infantry from 1965-66, said he appreciated the recognition, but it can be painful as well. Even a simple “thank you” can stir up tough memories, he said.

“When you come home, you have the pain of suffering a war zone and the pain of suffering when come home, along with (post-traumatic stress disorder) and other things, then you can have a negative feeling about yourself,” said Williams, who’s retired from an area steel mill. “There’s a plus and minus to receptions like this.”

“Somebody cares,” said Thomas Jayjack, of Schererville, a Marine in Vietnam from 1966-67 who said he deals with mixed emotions at recognition events. “Sometimes, the mental wounds are worse than the physical wounds.”

Mary Morstadt, an official with a local bank and an officer with the Northwest Indiana Veterans Action Council, became emotional thinking about her father, family members and others who have served in war.

“I think what vets and active-duty service people do is phenomenally important to our country,” she said. “It’s never to late to say thank you, and, next year, I’d like to see this room full.”