By Dave Scott
Beacon Journal staff writer
Charles Gowen of Alliance is still suffering more than four decades since leaving the Army and his service in Vietnam.
He took a few more steps toward recovery Saturday morning when he and hundreds of other veterans were guests of the township’s Brimfest parade.
Gowen, who rose to the rank of Specialist 4, said coming home in 1968 was painful.
“We got off the plane and at the airport there were people hollering and everything else,” he said. Some of them “called us baby killers, they spat on us.”
Only recently, he became aware that he is suffering post-traumatic stress syndrome and is seeing an Army psychiatrist.
It’s a simple reason why he found the Brimfest parade so special.
“Being recognized,” he said tersely.
There were more than 1,000 people along Brimfield’s parade route, according to Police Chief David Oliver.
He estimated 300 veterans attended, including two in buses from a Veterans Affairs hospital in Cleveland.
Along the parade route, the adults cheered and held “Welcome Home” signs. The children scrambled to pick up candy.
Larry Ruppel, who served in the Army from 1965 to 1968, said he is aware of other events to honor veterans but is glad his hometown of Brimfield made a special effort to bring in as many veterans as possible.
Oliver, who jokingly calls himself an “Internet sensation” because of the more than 80,000 followers his writing drew to the department’s Facebook page, used his fame to invite all veterans from around the country to participate in the parade.
Just being invited made a difference to Ruppel.
“This one is very special because they are honoring the vets,” he said. “We weren’t treated so well when we got home so this is a real nice thing that they are doing.”
The reception Vietnam veterans received when they returned from war was a common theme for those who gathered before the parade to meet old and new friends and talk.
“Chief was the first one to actually invite Vietnam veterans,” said Richard Long, an Army veteran who served between 1966 and 1967.
Asked how Saturday’s event was different from previous ceremonies like annual Veterans Day observances, Long said: “We’re included. We were never included.”
Donald Bailey, 85, of Suffield, served in Korea and Vietnam. He met Oliver before the parade and thanked him for organizing the event.
He said seeing all the veterans “brings back memories and a lot of memories are not too good.”
Bill Boldizsar, a former Marine, said Brimfield is doing what he and his fellow veterans have been doing for a long time.
“We weren’t really welcomed when we first come back and we are getting recognized now. When we see a fellow Vietnam veteran, we say ‘Welcome home.’ ”
Dave Scott can be reached at 330-996-3577 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Scott on Twitter at Davescottofakro.