Thursday, March 31, 2011

Wyoming welcomes home veterans from Vietnam and Korea

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, 2011, 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.

When asked whether he knew Jerry Montoya had attended this event, SFA Chapter IX President Pete Peral said, "Well, where's there free food,'ll find Montoya."

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