“Today is for the brave men and women that left their home ... in military service for their country,” said Gov. Mead.
In the vehemently criticized Vietnam War, veterans returning home often were scorned, and Korean War vets received lukewarm receptions at best.
Lee Alley, a decorated U.S. Army Vietnam vet, wore a blazer with ribbons proudly displayed on his chest, but during the war, he said he was spat on when he returned to America.
“How in God’s name do you tell them it was not a noble war?” Alley asked.
Mead said Vietnam soldiers were caught in the crossfire of public debate. He disagreed with the term, “the forgotten war,” an expression often used to describe the Korean War, saying it should be remembered.
In Korea (1950-53), 54,200 were killed, and 58,267 were killed in Vietnam (1964-73) while serving their country, according to the governor’s proclamation.
At the onset of the Korean War, troops were poorly equipped and trained, said Buck Wilkerson, U.S. Army Korean War veteran.
“But they stepped in and gave it everything they had,” he added.
“We could have and we should have done better,” Mead said to the full house of veterans, active duty military personnel, local dignitaries and well-wishers.
“Never again, will we as a nation, disrespect our warriors,” Alley said.
The Legislature and the governor’s office have extended services for Wyoming veterans, and there is a greater recognition of the Veteran’s Administration’s presence in Wyoming, Mead said.
The governor signed the Welcome Home bill, but he reminded those assembled that the Wyoming welcome extends to all military personnel, including those who have or are serving in the Middle East and all the other military actions past and present.
Veterans forgotten or rebuffed must also absolve their fellow Americans for those slights of the past. But civilians too, must recognize men and women in uniform without delay, Alley said.
“Say ‘thank you and welcome home,’” Alley said.
Those in uniform continue to serve their country, and some pay the ultimate price.
“Freedom is not free,” Wilkerson said.
Wilkerson acknowledged the military personnel assembled and offered a joke about the contemporary uniforms, receiving good-natured laughs.
The efforts of the U.S. military stopped the march of communism in Asia, Wilkerson said.
“We need to educate every generation of Americans on the historical impact of the Korean War,” Wilkerson said.
All the speakers received hardy applause, including Shelby Soule, Cody High School student body president, who brought a 30-foot scroll signed by students thanking the troops for their patriotic efforts.
“On behalf of the state of Wyoming, on behalf of all citizens of Wyoming, all citizens you have protected, we welcome you home,” Mead said.
“Welcome home,” Alley said with appreciation. “Believe me, it’s been a long time coming.”