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VFW Out Riding To 'Welcome Home' Vietnam Vets

CANNON FALLS, Minn. (WCCO) -- Four decades is a long time to wait for a welcome home greeting. But that's exactly what happened to the nation's 6 million Vietnam-era veterans.

Understandably, many of them turned bitter over the treatment and grew disillusioned about membership in veteran's service organizations. Now, the Minnesota Department of the Veterans of Foreign Wars has embarked on a week-long campaign called Ride For Healing.

Commencing on Memorial Day, VFW teams set out from the four corners of Minnesota to target as many towns and VFW posts as possible. The goal is to meet with disaffected Vietnam-era vets and give them their long overdue welcoming and thanks.

On Wednesday afternoon, near the outskirts of Cannon Falls, the parade of honor approached. With motorcycles following behind a police escort, the Ride For Healing stretched a full city block as it rolled towards the local VFW post.

"It was a different time," explained Vietnam veteran and motorcycle rider Ron Houle.

The Air Force veteran flew transport missions over Vietnam in a C-130 aircraft in 1966 to 1967. But when the now-retired corporate pilot returned from Vietnam to the United States, he was prepared for a reception that was both cold and unwelcoming.

"They briefed us on the plane on the way home that we were not welcomed home," he said. "There were protests, they threw eggs on us. It was not very nice."

To make matters worse, even the Veteran of Foreign Wars wouldn't allow the returning vets to join their hometown posts. The organization had by-laws prohibiting membership to any veteran who didn't serve in an officially declared war, which Vietnam technically wasn't.

Now, Lee Ulferts, the VFW state department commander, bristles at the thought.

"You know what? We've got a wall in D.C. with 58,200-plus names on it," Ulferts said. "You go tell them it wasn't a real war, they died somewhere."

Ulferts has taken it upon himself to change the disservice done to Vietnam vets so many years ago. From town to town, and post to post, the week-long Ride For Healing is targeting the disaffected.

"It's my way of saying, as department commander, we're sorry for what we did and our part in that," Ulferts said.

To loud and sustained applause, six proud Vietnam veterans walked to the front of the room to receive their just and overdue honor. It was a simple gesture of appreciation for answering the country's call.

The Ride For Healing will culminate on Saturday with a parade and military fly-over at the Crow Wing County fairgrounds in Brainerd.

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