Homecoming to celebrate Vietnam vets

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 6, 2012

By Mark Wineka
SALISBURY — You’ve heard the stories.
Soldiers coming home from tours in Vietnam, getting off their planes in San Francisco and being spit on by war protesters as they walked through the airport.
Or more frequently, the Vietnam soldiers returned home to nothing, least of all any fanfare.
“Basically, there was no homecoming at all for me,” says Vietnam veteran Ty Cobb, now 71. “The homecoming I got was total silence. No thank-yous. No way-to-gos, or anything like that.”
On March 31, Charlotte Motor Speedway, the USO and the N.C. Association of Broadcasters will be offering a “Vietnam Veterans Homecoming Celebration” at the speedway in Concord.
The day, crammed with entertainment and military displays, exhibits and demonstrations, aims at giving Vietnam soldiers the recognition and gratitude most of them never received on returning home.
Cobb, who has retired to eastern Rowan County, says the celebration is a little thing and long overdue, but then again, “It’s never too late.”
Albert Moon, an Army paratrooper and member of the Special Forces over two Vietnam tours, says he probably won’t be able to attend the speedway event because of health reasons.
“But I think it’s a good thing, something you might say is due,” says Moon, who lives in Mount Ulla.
North Carolina’s entire congressional delegation has gone on record encouraging Vietnam veterans, their families and the public in general to reserve their free tickets for the event.
In a press release, U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said: “We owe it to our Vietnam veterans to thank them for their dedication, commemorate their service and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“I am proud that the inaugural tribute will take place in North Carolina and hope that this celebration will be the first of many in the years to come.”
U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., said, “More than 58,000 troops never returned from Vietnam and those who came back did not receive the recognition they deserved.”
Hagan’s husband is a Vietnam veteran, “and I’m aware of the trials that many of these men and women and their families endured on their return to the States,” she said, adding, “We owe them a debt of gratitude.”
Cobb, whose Vietnam tour as an Army infantryman put him in the thick of the Tet Offensive and the efforts to win Hue City, returned home in 1968. He flew into San Francisco, then on to New York City, where the only people to greet him were his wife and young daughter.
“That’s the only homecoming I got,” Cobb says.
Likewise, Moon said he simply returned to Fort Bragg after his Vietnam tours to resume his Army career, which lasted 22 years.
“Down there, there was nothing out of the ordinary — no fanfare,” he recalls. The same goes for when he visited his Rowan County home on the weekends.
“It was a non-event, you might say,” Moon adds.
Moon heard “all kind of tales” about the mistreatment and disrespect shown to some Vietnam soldiers coming back to the States. He personally experienced none of those horror stories on the commercial flights home or out in public later.
The Army awarded Cobb a Purple Heart for injuries he received in Vietnam, where he acted as senior advisor to a South Vietnamese parachute battalion.
Speak with Cobb, and he will tell you stories of close calls with enemy mortar shells and rocket-propelled grenades. He’ll talk of the admiration he had for the South Vietnamese soldiers he was fighting with, and how he wasn’t fond of the national reporters who stayed until they captured footage they wanted, then left.
After his Vietnam tour, Cobb enrolled at the University of Texas to earn his master’s degree in geography, with a minor in geology. A West Point graduate, he returned there to teach earth sciences and geography for three years.
His Army career spanned 21 years before he retired as a lieutenant colonel. As a civilian, he worked an additional 20 years for a weapons research and development command center in New Jersey, where he and his wife also had a sporting goods store for 10 years.
The Cobbs retired and moved south to be close to their daughter and grandchildren seven years ago.
Looking back, Cobb thinks the Vietnam experience made him more conservative in political terms. (In the past, he has been the Republican nominee for the 12th District U.S. House seat.)
While he was working toward his master’s degree at Texas, students held anti-war demonstrations on campus. “That disturbed me,” he said. “That wasn’t a welcome-home rally by any stretch of the imagination.”
He remembers he and his wife were visiting Presbyterian churches in Austin, looking to choose one where they would attend regularly. During one of their visits, a minister spoke harshly of the Vietnam war and the U.S. involvement there.
“Have you ever been to Vietnam,” Cobb asked the minister on his way out of church that morning. The pastor said he had not.
“I could tell by the way you were talking that you hadn’t been,” Cobb said.
The Cobbs did not make a return visit to that church.
Cobb sometimes wears a hat which shows that he’s a Vietnam veteran, and it helps him meet fellow Vietnam veterans. “We always shake hands and say (to each other), ‘Welcome home, brother,’ ” Cobb says.
Both Cobb and Moon see the more positive attention given to today’s soldiers who come back from tours in the Middle East and ask themselves why Vietnam veterans never saw the same thing.
But they never dwell on it.
“We’re all big boys, we’ll take care of ourselves,” Cobb says.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.

Vietnam Veterans Homecoming

Where: Charlotte Motor Speedway
When: March 31. Gates open at 9 a.m.; ceremonies begin at 11 a.m.
Entertainment: Charlie Daniels Band, George Clinton, Rockie Lynne, The 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing Band, The 82nd Airborne Division “All-American” Chorus. Chris Noel, master of ceremonies.
Military exhibits, displays and demonstrations: U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute demonstration, U.S. Air Force flyover, Flag Story from the U.S. Army Color Guard and Flag Troops, various military static displays from supporting N.C. military units and recruiters.
Reserve free tickets: For more information and to reserve free tickets, visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com/WelcomeHome