U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (left), D-3rd, talks with Cmdr. Bill Ward on Saturday at Lemont Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5819 for Vietnam Veterans Day. | Frank Vaisvilas/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 2, 2014 6:08AM
Vietnam War veteran Thomas Ballard remembers the day he was spat on at O’Hare International Airport when he returned from his tour of duty.
The stigma attached to returning soldiers received by Vietnam War protesters was one of the experiences remembered during an observance of Vietnam Veterans Day on Saturday at the Lemont Veterans of Foreign Wars hall.
“It’s a different era, now,” said Ballard, Lemont Emergency Management Agency director.
Ballard served in the Air Force in Vietnam in a C-130 “bladder bird” delivering fuel to Army and Marine units from 1970 to 1971.
Today, he regularly attends welcome-home celebrations for returning soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan providing the type of warm reception almost unheard of during the time he served.
U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-3rd, attended the event and said soldiers returning home today owe the public gratitude they receive to Vietnam veterans and an effort to not repeat what they went through when they came back.
He said even if someone is against a war, they usually know they shouldn’t direct their anger at returning soldiers.
“Most of you deserved a lot better when you came home,” Lipinski told the veterans during his keynote address. “... You were not treated like the heroes that you are.”
Lemont VFW Post 5819 Cmdr. Bill Ward said he appreciates the work Lipinski does for veterans.
“He has voted for anything to do with veterans,” said Ward, who served in the Marine Corps as a patrol commander conducting “search and destroy” missions from 1970 to ’71.
Lipinski said he introduced a bill into Congress last week that would officially recognize Vietnam Veterans Day, which is observed March 29: the day the last U.S. troops left Vietnam in 1973.
In addition to changing the way America deals with returning soldiers, Lipinski said Vietnam veterans also brought to light the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Treatment has a long way way to go. Thanks to you, we’re doing a much better job,” Lipinski told the veterans.
He said he’s also trying to fix the more than two year backlog at the Department of Veterans Affairs for veterans to receive benefits.