N.C. Vietnam vets finally get their homecoming
(CBS News) - When the Vietnam War ended, there was no official homecoming ceremony. Many vets were shunned.
Several groups in North Carolina, including the USO, wanted to make things right. This past weekend, more than 60,000 people gathered at the Charlotte Motor Speedway to say thank you. CBS News correspondent Anna Werner followed the story of former Marine, De Hillyer.
It took 43 years for Hillyer to get to this day. This day for smiles and hugs has been a tough journey.
Hillyer arrived in Vietnam in 1968. As a 25-year-old Marine sergeant, he served at Camp Dong Ha. He was the third generation of his family to serve his country during a time of war.
"Part of me changed forever over there," he told CBS News. "There's some part of you you just can't change. I wish I could."
Hillyer's tour in Vietnam lasted 13 months. The war was deeply unpopular back home, and its brutality left its mark on him.
When he returned to the U.S., he faced a homecoming he could not have imagined, Hillyer explained. Anti-war protesters greeted his busloads of soldiers by spitting and throwing rocks. The former soldier said the homecoming took away his innocence.
"I came back to a country where I had felt safe previously, and all of a sudden, I didn't feel safe anymore. It took away my security," he explained.
Hiller became a church pastor, all the time fighting feelings of anger and depression. He tried to commit suicide twice.
Three years ago, he joined a therapy group with fellow veterans R.Z. McClain, Reggie French and Marvin Cuffee. All of them were struggling to put Vietnam behind them.
"Sometimes people say, 'I know how you feel,' but unless you've really been there you don't know how we feel," Cuffee said.
This past Saturday morning, Hillyer and thousands of his fellow veterans finally got their welcome home, with North Carolina's first ever celebration to honor their service. He said it was a "very good feeling."
Now the former soldiers can have closure to that part of their life. After four decades, those who left their home to fight finally got their homecoming.
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