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Cover Story: Event to honor present, future veterans

Mon, Jun 6, 2011

By Shea Gibbs
StreetWise Contributor

Vietnam veteran Jack Shiffler hopes an upcoming celebration of past warriors will primarily benefit present and future warriors. Shiffler recently took the helm of Welcome Home 2011, a three-day event to be held June 17-19 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the 1986 Vietnam veterans Welcome Home Parade. The event will include a veteran’s art and photo exhibit, display of the “Moving Wall” half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., Navy Pier rally, concert and banquet.

Shiffler, who served in Vietnam as an enlisted Marine from 1966-67, hopes men and women serving in the armed forces today take away from the event a similar lesson to one he learned during the parade in 1986.

“When we came home from Vietnam, [public sentiment] was kind of sick,” Shiffler said. “Then, in 1982, the wall was dedicated in Washington, and people started realizing it wasn’t the vets’ fault. Then, the 1986 parade pushed it over the edge. I remember leaving Navy Pier, and I saw this little sign. It said, ‘honor the warrior, not the war.’ And finally I thought there was a change in public sentiment.”

Chicago’s 1986 parade featured more than 200,000 marching veterans and over 300,000 spectators. Shiffler, a recipient of the Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Cross of Gallantry, two stars of the Vietnam Campaign Medal, the Combat Action Ribbon and the Presidential Unit Citation, recently was tasked to head the effort to commemorate the parade when the previous vice chairman of the event, Robert Kolling, was forced to step down due to illness.

“The [1986] parade provided a healing process which generated a grassroots movement that laid the groundwork for today’s returning soldiers,” Kolling said. “The [upcoming] weekend of events is designed to remember the dedicated service and valor of Vietnam-era veterans and to recognize and thank Gulf war, Iraq, Afghanistan and all U.S. veterans and their families and to ‘hand the baton’ off to the next generations of U.S. veterans.”

In addition to remembering the 1986 parade, offering a “big thank you to the city of Chicago” and showing support for modern warfighters, Shiffler hopes the three-day celebration will help ensure the government doesn’t treat future vets the same way he and his compatriots were treated when they returned from the war.

“As we got into the system, it confused the system,” he said. “They called what we had post-traumatic stress disorder, but they didn’t know how to cure it. What they do now is a lot of decompression time.”

Since 1986, Shiffler has coordinated public displays of the Moving Wall, developed by John Devitt, so Illinois veterans who could not travel to D.C. to view the actual memorial could still experience it. He has helped coordinate exhibitions in 29 locations in the state.
Shiffler believes much of the backlash against Vietnam veterans after the war was due to disgruntled citizens not being able to voice their concerns to the government and finding the military an easy and accessible target of their frustration. But he also believes events like Welcome Home 2011 and displays of the Moving Wall can help people separate future wars from the warriors who fight in them.

“What we’re having in June is not another parade,” Shiffler said. “The parade in 1986 was such a success, there’s no need to try to top it. We want the men and women of the armed forces to know we support them. We won’t let it happen again. I still go back to that sign.”

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