When World War I ended, returning troops came home by divisions and were given ticker tape parades in New York City. The 36th Infantry Division returned home to San Antonio where the division had been formed. The division was given a parade and a barbecues, according to Jerry Gatch, commander of the Stark ‘64 Veterans Association.

At the end of World War II there were celebrations for returning troops. Troopships coming home from Europe and the Pacific were met at the docks and given jubilant welcomes. At the end of the Korean War, things were a little more subdued, but there were still welcomes for returning troops.

Troops returning from Vietnam were not welcomed, in some cases they were scorned. They were coming home from an unpopular war that had divided a nation.

They returned home one by one as opposed to coming back in large groups like from prior wars. The majority of returning troops had been draftees. They went to war because they were told to, not because they wanted to. While they were there they followed orders and did what they were told to do when they were told to do it.

In the most extreme cases they were spat upon because of the uniform they wore. In the better cases they were simply ignored. They did not deserve to be treated as they were. They were victims of an unpopular war and foreign policy of three different administrations. Now the young warriors have become older veterans. For decades they have put aside the hurt and done their best to become good citizens and live productive lives. They deserve a “Thank You and a Welcome Home.”

One group is working toward a goal of remembering Vietnam veterans and thanking them for their efforts.

In 2010 the Lutcher Stark High School Class of 1964 was planning a reunion. They decided to find out how many veterans were class members. There were 29 veterans identified. All were Vietnam era veterans. Some had seen active duty and combat in Vietnam, some had seen reserve duty; several had ended up making the military a career.

The class decided to give them a formal welcome home and thank you at the reunion. The outcome was the formation of the Stark ’64 Veterans Association. Each veteran was given a special pin and an individual “Welcome Home.” The veterans took the ball and ran with it. They formally organized, elected officers, got a tax-exempt status, and began to look around to see how they could help other veterans.

Their first project was to assist the City of Refuge, a home for homeless veterans in Vinton, La. They first made a cash donation and then in March, 2011, staged a picnic for the residents at the shelter. They have also been involved in fundraising for the new administration building at the shelter. Now they are focusing on another project.

“The immediate goal of the Stark ’64 Veterans Association is to build and dedicate the Orange County Vietnam War Memorial as a permanent salute to those from Orange County who gave all in the war of our generation,” said Jerry Gatch, commander of the Stark ’64 Veterans Association.

The first step for the association has been to identify the 24 men from Orange County who were killed in the Vietnam War. Gatch and several other association members have been compiling short biographies of those 24 men and are publishing a special section for Memorial Day in the Record Newspapers to honor them.

Gatch has biographical information on 16 of the 24, but still needs any information available on the last eight. The men he needs information on are: Daniel Earl Winters, USMC, KIA, 8 Oct 1968, from Bridge City.

Men from Orange: Anthony Clark Armbruster, USMC, KIA 9 Jan 1969; Carl Richard Crone, USN, KIA 12 Sept 1969; Norman Lee Dupre, USA, 26 Sept 1966; Jimmy Lee Fomby, USA, KIA 8 Dec 1969; Franklin D.R. Gilbert, USMC, KIA 28 Feb 1966; Preston Douglas Sharp, USA, KIA 19 Mar 1970 and Peter Garland Thompson, USA, KIA 19 Oct 1968.

If you have any information on any of these men, or know anyone who may give information on these men, please contact: Jerry Gatch, commander, Stark ’64 Veterans Association, 5 Circle D, Orange, TX 77630. He may also be contacted by phone: 409-920-4601, or email: thegatchergatch@gmail.com.

Planning and fundraising are underway for the Orange County Vietnam War Memorial. Contributions to the memorial park may also be made to Gatch with any of the above information. Checks should be made payable to the Stark ’64 Veterans Association.