News: Wyoming welcomes home veterans from Vietnam and Korea wars
Story by 1st Lt. Christian Venhuizen
CHEYENNE, Wyo. – A ceremony that lasted less than an hour helped soldiers like Jerry Montoya bring closure to more than 30 years of battling with the way his fellow citizens saw his service.
Montoya served in Vietnam, assigned to Army Special Forces, a Green Beret. Twice he returned home, both times on a stretcher in the middle of the night. Montoya’s first welcome home ceremony came on March 30, the first time Wyoming recognized Veterans’ Welcome Home Day.
“It makes it official that we’re home,” Montoya said.
“One of the things about living in Wyoming that people don’t get, is the fact that Wyoming is a very patriotic state,” said Lee Alley, vice chairman of the Wyoming Veterans Commission and a Vietnam veteran. “The [Wyoming Veterans’ Welcome Home Day] was presented to the veterans commission, and we looked at the proclamation, and they asked us to support it. The way it was originally written, we were having a little difficulty supporting that, but we tweaked it and fine tuned it, and jumped behind it and got it passed.”
Enrolled Act No. 15 legally made March 30 the day Wyoming residents honor all veterans, specifically those who did not receive the homecoming they deserved. It also directs the governor to annually issue a proclamation honoring veterans on March 30.
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead signed the first proclamation on March 17, directing the observance of the day. “March 30 of every year, this year, next year, the following years, every year will be set aside for this special purpose. This is a day being observed all across this state,” he said during the first ceremony at the Wyoming Capitol. The governor said he’s lost sleep because of some of the legislation this past year, but “on this one I lost sleep over [it] only because I was so excited that I was able to sign it.”
“It’s an opportunity for the nation to say ‘we screwed up, we disrespected our warriors and it will never happen again,’” said Alley, who noted approximately 25 other states enacted, or are working on legislation similar to Wyoming’s.
For Montoya, the ceremony at his state’s Capitol helped cap years of wrestling with conflicted emotions. He and other Vietnam and Korean War veterans watched America’s sons and daughters deploy and return from the global war on terror.
“And when I saw those kids that came home from the Gulf War going down the main street in New York with flags and everything, beautiful, but there was a certain amount of bitterness in me. Where was my parade,” he said. “Middle of the night on a stretcher—nobody knew I was here. I was kind of bitter. It’s taken years to get over that. I’ve kept it to myself.“
Montoya, escorted by his niece, Wyoming Air National Guard Master Sgt. Trudy Woodcock, was among those who walked through the handshake line, being thanked by Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, Wyoming Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Ed Wright, and other dignitaries.
The Wyoming Veterans Commission, in coordination with the governor’s office, organized the ceremony at the Wyoming Capitol, Cody and Casper, in addition to ceremonies already taking place in schools and veterans organizations around the state. Wyoming National Guard personnel assisted with all three and both the state’s military museums either hosted, or set up displays, at homecoming events.