Reflections from Vietnam Veterans’ Welcome Home Day

By Wade Sheldon, Tulalip News

On Saturday, March 30, the Gathering Hall became a poignant gathering place as around 100 people convened to commemorate and honor those who served during the Vietnam War. This heartfelt event, known as the Vietnam Veterans Welcome Home Day, was a touching tribute to the sacrifices and contributions of these brave individuals. 

Andy James, the event organizer, reflected on its history by stating, “I started hosting this event in 2013 at the Boys and Girls Club. We were shut down when COVID happened, and this one is the first we have been able to have.” The journey to this year’s gathering has been marked by challenges, including the pandemic-induced shutdowns, making this return even more significant.

Additionally, March 30 is recognized as Vietnam Veterans Welcome Home Day in Washington State. This day is dedicated to honoring and commemorating the service and sacrifices of Vietnam War veterans.  It’s also a day to reflect on the challenges faced by Vietnam veterans upon their return home, as many did not receive the welcome they deserved due to widespread opposition to the war and significant social and political unrest, including protests and demonstrations. 

Now, Tulalip’s event serves as an opportunity to express gratitude to those who served during this tumultuous period in history and to remember those who served their country and gave their lives in service to their country. 

Of the 42,000 Native Americans who served their country during the Vietnam conflict, 90% were volunteers. Among them was Cy Hatch, a retired Gunnery Sergeant from the Tulalip Tribes, who served in the United States Marine Corps and held an E-7 ranking when he retired. This designation meant Cy held a leadership position within his regiment during his 20-year service from 1971 to 1991.

“I didn’t know what to do after I finished high school. I had a brother-in-law who was a Vietnam vet, and he told me to join the Marine Core; I did,” Cy said. “And I managed to make a career out of it, and I’m glad I made that choice. It’s a privilege and an honor to serve your country; I think more people trying to find their way in life should join. I’m thankful for this event; it means a lot for me to stand with my fellow military, be recognized, and enjoy our time together.” 

James expressed gratitude for the support received, noting that Governor Jay Inslee signed the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Bill in 2013, which has garnered much excitement. “I am particularly thankful to the Tulalip Tribes for their generous offer to host the annual event at the Tulalip Gathering Hall.” As a former Private First Class in the United States Marine Corps during the end of the Vietnam War, James’s motivation for organizing the event is deeply personal. “This is my way of attempting to do something good. Some veterans passed that didn’t get a chance to experience this. I had to do it.” He emphasized the importance of the gathering, reflecting on feedback he’s received: “I have been told this event is so moving and touching, as most don’t get to experience the love our native people extend to its veterans and elders.”

As the event concluded, the camaraderie and appreciation remained palpable. Among heartfelt exchanges, there was a deep sense of gratitude for the opportunity to honor Vietnam veterans. This gathering fostered a sense of community and acceptance, providing solace for the travesties they endured and reaffirming their place within society.