PAOLA — Veteran Mike Welter recalls the poor reception members of the U.S. military received when they arrived on U.S. soil after the Vietnam War.
“I was a hospital corpsman with the 3rd Marine Division (in Okinawa),” Welter said Wednesday, July 31, in the County Commission chambers after accepting a proclamation honoring Vietnam veterans.
“When I came home in 1976 shortly after the war had ended, I remember going through the airport in Los Angeles and you would try to sit down by somebody and people would get up and move,” Welter said. “Guys were in the bathroom tearing their uniforms off and stuffing them in trash cans because they didn’t want to be seen.”
Welter held up the proclamation and looked at it before addressing the commissioners.
“This is quite a change, and it is very much appreciated,” he said. “It means a lot.”
The commission declared July 31 as a Day of Remembrance/Day of Honor. A passage in the proclamation reads: “Miami County is proud to recognize our Vietnam veterans and extend the appreciation of our citizens to those who were killed or are missing in action.”
The proclamation listed the names of five Miami County residents who were killed in Vietnam. The following is an accounting of their deaths, according to The Miami County Republic archives:
- Dan Wards of Paola, who was a U.S. Navy hospital corpsman attached to the People to People program, was the first Miami County youth to be killed in the Vietnam War. He was killed at the age of 20 by hostile action Jan. 7, 1968, in the Da Nang area of Vietnam. He was working with the People to People program to vaccinate Vietnamese children for cholera at the time of his death.
- Petty Officer First Class Ward Patton of Fontana was serving with the United States Navy at 10:30 p.m. on July 27, 1968, when he and another crewman were returning to YRBM-18, which was anchored in the upper My Tho River near the Cho Lach District in South Vietnam. The Navy’s YRBMs provided floating barracks and support bases for the riverline forces. The second crewman was lighting the way with a flashlight when Patton missed his footing and fell into the swiftly moving current. All forces in the area were alerted to assist in the extensive search along the My Tho and Ham Luong rivers, but Patton’s body was never recovered. He was 34 years old.
- Staff Sergeant Larry Smith of Paola was killed in action at the age of 30 on March 20, 1969, when a rocket hit his barracks while he was serving with the 173rd Airborne Helicopter department in the Binh Dinh Province in South Vietnam.
- Corporal Lawrence Bauer of Louisburg was killed in action at the age of 23 on April 30, 1969, while serving with the 18th Artillery unit of the Americal division. He was a graduate of Louisburg High School, a member of the Immaculate Conception Church and of the American Legion John P. Hand Post 250. He was originally a member of the Battery C National Guard unit that was called to active duty in May 1968.
- First Lieutenant Clarence Lewis of Louisburg was killed in action at the age of 25 on May 21, 1972, while serving with the 21st Tactical Airlift Squadron, 374th Tactical Airlift Wing, 7th Air Force. Lewis was a pilot, and he died in a plane crash in the Kon Tum Province in South Vietnam.