TAMPA, Fla. — A number of "Welcome Home" ceremonies are being held across the Tampa Bay area on Wednesday to honor local Vietnam veterans.
March 29, 2023 marks 50 years since the last U.S. combat troops were pulled out of Vietnam.
What You Need To Know
- Wednesday is National Vietnam Veterans Day
- Ceremonies to honor Vietnam vets are taking place across Bay area
- St. Petersburg: Bay Pines National Cemetery at 9:30 a.m.
- Dunedin: Pioneer Park at 11 a.m.
- Tampa: Old City Hall at 10 a.m.
To honor them, ceremonies are being held at Bay Pines National Cemetery in St. Petersburg, at the old Tampa city hall and at Pioneer Park in Dunedin. Many smaller communities are holding their own ceremonies as well.
Bay area U.S. Army veteran Tom Leavitt says even 50 years later he still has trouble talking about what it was like to return home from Vietnam.
“It was a tough time, but I was a 20-year-old kid,” Leavitt said. “I didn’t really think about war and the casualties and everything like that and I came back a different person. My parents didn’t understand me. I didn’t understand them… and none of my friends knew who I was.”
Leavitt served as a logistics officer for the 50th Medical Clearing Company, a part of the 44th Medical Brigade. His job included caring for prisoners of war. He says he saw the worst of the injured and would walk through the wards and see soldiers who had been maimed, shot and burned.
“It was a growing up period for me. I became a man, seeing things no one should ever see. Hearing things no one should ever hear… the cries of the wards,” he recalled.
Leavitt lost a close childhood friend in Vietnam and many fellow soldiers since then.
“The visualization of those times are still in my head 50 years later,” he said.
For many soldiers, returning home wasn’t a friendly welcome. Leavitt says he tried to ignore the negativity and protests.
“The military has a saying of no man left behind and I think the Vietnam soldier was left behind in a way,” he said.
Because what these Vietnam veterans went through upon returning home is so unique, Leavitt says he has a special bond with fellow soldiers — even those who he has never met personally.
“It can be a perfect stranger on the street and he’s wearing a veteran cap that says ‘Vietnam veteran’ on it… and I’m just so proud of him,” he said with a smile.