Welcome Home, At Last

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The road crew that hauls the Vietnam Memorial Wall from town to town, has seen it all.

For starters, many of the folks that set up the wall in each new town survived combat in Vietnam. And now they spend their days driving a big truck around, then setting up in one park or open space after another.

But on Thursday, they said they saw something unusual.

They say they're used to the deep emotion and reverence people display when standing before the wall.

But they rarely see a whole community turn out as the truck rolls into town.

On Thursday, somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 Payson residents delayed the start of their day by driving down to Main Street to stand in flag-festooned clusters all up and down the street, to bear witness to the arrival of the wall with its honored burden of the names of the fallen.

Payson did itself proud.

And it mattered.

It mattered mostly to the Vietnam Veterans who on those motorcycles found themselves suddenly and unexpectedly having that hometown homecoming parade they were so unjustly denied when they returned from that jungle, having done their duty and run desperate risk in an unpopular war.

The nation has a burden of guilt for the way we treated the soldiers home from the war. We need many events like Thursday to ease that failure. But we made a start of it. And the opportunity remains gleaming in Green Valley Park through Sunday. Tomorrow morning, former Maricopa county attorney and Vietnam veteran Rick Romley will keynote the 9 a.m. ceremonies, which will include music, bagpipes, a color guard and an F-16 flyover.

We urge you to make time this weekend to go to the grassy space in front of the wall.

We did -- even as the crews set it up.

Almost immediately, people started showing up to touch certain names.

So in a few quiet conversations, we got to know some of the 58,000 men and women whose service helped secure our right to stand in such a place on such a day.

So if you don't know anyone whose name is on that wall, let us offer a few you can look up, and touch.

Look for Bill Franz, whose helicopter flew into a mountain on a rescue mission.

Look for Ben Ward, a little guy with a big heart who was blown to pieces on a night patrol.

Look for Howard Bledsoe, who was beloved by his squad members because he'd do anything for you and nicknamed "Frog" for his deep rasp of a voice. He was ambushed on a patrol.

Look for William Pasch, who took the loader's seat in his tank although he might have been the driver and as a result he died and the driver lived when the shell hit the vehicle.

Take flowers or photos or something that would make sense of the sacrifice of Bill and Ben and Howard and William -- something that for you explains what makes this country so worth the sacrifice. Leave it there for them.

And if you can do it without being intrusive, introduce yourself to one of their brothers who survived -- who will be standing before that wall with their own burden of guilt and regret.

And thank them too.

Just say, welcome home.

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