Paying tribute to Vietnam veterans

The hundreds of spectators who lined the Oktemberfest parade route on Main Street Saturday did their best to make up for what many Americans didn’t do 38 years ago.

They welcomed home a group of approximately 40 Vietnam veterans who marched or rode in the Grand Parade.

From the time the veterans carrying the welcome home banner crossed the intersection at Ninth and Main Streets, until the parade route’s end at the Tallcorn Towers, many in the crowd, young and old, rose from their seats and clapped, cheered, saluted and waved American flags. Some brought hand-lettered signs decorated with American flags, held up high that read “thank you” and “welcome home.”

Several of the veterans received hugs along Main Street or traded “high fives” with youth.

The procession stopped at one point and a young man crossed the street to shake hands with Laurel Phipps and Cecil Buschbom, World War II veterans and Mel Pitzen, a Korean War veteran, all Marshalltown residents who were riding alongside the Vietnam veterans in a Veterans of Foreign Wars trailer.

World War II veteran Harold Brown, of Marshalltown, honored his fellow veterans too, riding the entire route in his wheelchair pushed by his grandson Russell Brown, a U.S. Marine from Gladbrook.

Several active duty personnel, dressed in military fatigues followed, tossing out candy or patriotic-themed T-shirts.

A large bus from the Iowa Veterans Home carried veterans, staff and supporters.

Parade emcee Denny Grabenbauer, his voice rising in excitement, asked the large crowd assembled on both sides of Main Street near the courthouse to clap and “welcome home” the veterans.

They let loose a raucous cheer.

The veterans had traveled to Marshalltown from Ames, Ankeny, Des Moines, Jefferson and the Meskwaki Settlement near Tama.

Others, like Larry Larson, Tom LaVille, Dennis Meyers, Pete Quiafe, J.R. Reynolds and more, are from Marshalltown.

“I’m really appreciative of this day,” Meyers said. “It is like a dream come true. I just wish, that some of my comrades, who paid the ultimate sacrifice, could be part of this.”

The group represented many branches of the armed services: Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines.

Some wore their old Army fatigues or VFW hats.

Howard Tomlinson’s family from West Des Moines attended because Tomlinson, a Vietnam veteran, could not. He has been hospitalized, they said, suffering from PTSD and Agent Orange.

They carried large pictures of Harold with his service dates.

“We are very proud of him,” said Scott Tomlinson, his son.

Angie Manship, of Marshalltown, and her children clapped and cheered the veterans when they passed.

She said it was a thrill to see them.

“I think this is wonderful,” she said. “I wanted to thank them and I’m glad my children Kohl, 4, and Paige, 3, could be here and thank them for our freedom too.”

Phipps complimented Marshalltown on the parade turnout.

“This is one of the most well-attended parades I’ve ever participated in,” he said. “Folks really turned out to honor the Vietnam veterans. I’m really proud of my hometown for honoring them in this special way.”

Sandy Lurvey and Virginia Johnson of Marshalltown, whose husbands served in Vietnam, began organizing the event several months ago.

They telephoned, told friends, spoke at the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars meetings and promoted the event along with others.

“We’ve had calls from all over Iowa and the United States,” Lurvey said. “Many had stories about their service and how some were not treated well when they came home.”

Gary Lurvey, served in the Army in Vietnam.

“It wasn’t the greatest coming back,” Gary Lurvey said. “People weren’t very good to us.”

The Vietnam veterans didn’t ask for recognition, but they certainly deserve it, Sandy Lurvey said.

“It is a long time, a long time, overdue,” she said.