On the 4th of July of this year, I sat with my family at the Independence Day Parade in our hometown of Pottstown and watched all the local groups, dressed in their patriotic costumes walk by us. When the Veterans walked through, I noticed an older gentleman marching proudly in the front, he had to be in his late seventies or early 80’s and I remember he had the whitest of hair. A World War II Vet, I thought. He was wearing his original sailor’s uniform from his time in the US Navy. After more than 50 years, he could still fit into it! He marched up front with a huge American flag and the way he carried it, it was as if he was bestowed the greatest honor of his life. I could tell he carried that Flag for all it stood for: freedom, honor, courage, and the lives of so many young men and women.
Behind him marched several other Veterans, all donning their jackets and covers from their respective Marine Corps Leagues and VFW posts, but it was who marched behind these WWII and Korea Veterans that made me stop: Vietnam Vets. You could still see the sadness in their eyes. They marched with their fellow Veterans but it was a very different march. All I could think was, “Shame on us that we let our heroes from an unpopular war come home to nothing. It still shows, and it still effects them.”
Members from our current military drove behind our Veterans in their 10 ton trucks towing weapons from our field artillery and our thoughts and discussion turned to a friend who is serving in Afghanistan as a member of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. He is expected home for some rest and relaxation in October and we wanted to create a welcome home for him that could mirror a Super Bowl parade. We just want him to know how proud we are of him and what he is doing for our country.
But what about the troops that do not have anyone to welcome them home?
Over-the-top celebrations are common place in both of our families but what about the service members whose family and friends are not as supportive? What would they come home to? It was then that I decided that no Veteran of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will come home to the same treatment our Vietnam Veterans came home to. It was then that A Hero’s Welcome was born, or at least the thought of it was.
Like many Americans, after September 11th, I wondered what I could do to keep our country strong and safe. The 4th of July Parade was still very much in my head and I kept thinking:
How can I also make sure that the community knows about these heroes so that our youth can look up to these men and women as role models, rather than tabloid-makers or drug dealers?
If I can accomplish this, can it help to change society and possibly a generation?
Can it help to rewrite history so that our troops never again experience what our Vietnam Veterans did?
Some said “yes,” but many said “no.” I learned a long time ago that if you tell an American she can’t do something, she’ll do it; and with twice the results. So with my life savings and the vision of the hardships our military members have to endure in my head, I left my job and I started A Hero’s Welcome. It’s one of the scariest steps I’ve ever taken in my life but worth every second.
Thank you for your support, and if you enjoy your freedom, make sure you thank a Veteran.
For our troops,
Sharon Hyland, Founder