Planning for Gulf GIs' Homecoming Idaho Senator Offers an Initiative That Aims to Encourage Grass-Roots Support across US

Article excerpt

VIETNAM veterans groups are rallying around a plan to protect Operation Desert Storm troops from the kind of homecoming that soldiers received on their return from the Vietnam War.

Although local examples abound, Congress is also getting into the act through support for "Operation Homefront," an initiative of Sen. Steve Symms (R) of Idaho.

Mr. Symms is proposing nothing more elaborate than congressional encouragement and moral support for grass-roots committees preparing a noisy and enthusiastic welcome home for American soldiers.

Calling for parades, rallies, support services for soldiers' families, and discount coupons for everything from ski-lift tickets to sneakers, the senator several weeks ago kicked off "Operation Homefront." A former US marine, Symms has put his in-state staff at the disposal of local groups organizing support for the troops.

At last report, a US Senate resolution supporting the plan had gained 16 co-sponsors in addition to praise from veterans' groups.

"There is room for disagreement about US policy in the Persian Gulf," Symms said when he announced Operation Homefront.

"It is my fervent hope, however, that disagreement is limited to policy, and that the fine men and women we've put in harm's way do not suffer the public scorn which greeted veterans returning from Vietnam," Symms said.

"Nothing tears at my heart more than the reception Vietnam veterans received upon returning home," he said. "Many of those who served in Southeast Asia disagreed with the war, yet they answered the call and served their country. They should have received a hero's welcome when they came home."

Veterans groups have signed on. "We have unequivocally, unanimously endorsed that initiative," said J. Thomas Burch Jr., chairman of the National Vietnam Veterans coalition, which represents about 50 veterans groups and nearly a half-million Vietnam veterans.

"One of the problems we felt the most strongly (in Vietnam) was a lack of public support at home," Mr. Burch said. "Not so much a lack of support for the war as a lack of support for us as fighting men."

Burch said that while the phrase "Never Again" has mostly been used in recent weeks to describe the US commitment to wage unrestrained war against Iraq, it has become a watchword of support among Vietnam veterans groups who are committed to protecting Desert Storm warriors from humiliation at home.

"We want to make sure all these men are not treated as we were," he said, "We're very interested in what happens when they come home."

Symms' initiative to help plan hero's welcomes for soldiers returning from the Gulf is also winning support from those who are helping heal the psychological scars of the last US war. …

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