WATERLOO, IL (KTVI) – Veterans Day isn’t until Sunday, but folks in Waterloo, Illinois took the time Friday night to give an early thanks to some veterans. That thank you was actually long overdue.
This is the fifth year the city has hosted a ceremony for vets, but this one was especially emotional, since it marked the first time dozens of Vietnam vets were honored.
Former Army Squad Leader Terry Range served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970. He remembers his homecoming just like it was yesterday.
Range says, “We flew into Oakland, and in Oakland, they told us we all had to change out of our uniforms into civilian clothes, because there was so much stuff going on, and everybody hated us pretty much.”
After risking his life for his country, this chilly reception was disheartening.
“It was kind of bad. Pretty aggravating, actually. But it’s just something you kind of get over.”
It’s been 42 years since Range served in Vietnam, but Waterloo Mayor Tom Smith feels it’s never too late to honor him and hundreds of others just like him.
“I believe they deserve something they didn’t get when they got back,” Smith explains, “I just think veterans are what make America great.”
The ceremony featured patriotic hymns, an inspirational military speech, and performances by area high schoolers. Vets also received honorary plaques.
For Vietnam Navy veteran Stephen R. Candler, receiving this recognition for the first time dug up old memories, many of them painful.
Candler explains, “Bad memories, some bad memories. Lot of my buddies got killed over there, never came home. It was just a wasteful war, never should have happened. Lot of young kids got tore up real bad.”
By hosting the event, Waterloo’s mayor, a veteran himself, wants to make sure that thanking military men and women is a tradition that will never skip another generation.
Mayor Smith says, “We need to keep that for our young soldiers who are dying for us today.”
And after all this time, Range is grateful. “It’s been a while,” he says, “It’s nice. I appreciate it, I really do.”
Eighty veterans in total were honored for the first time Friday night.