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Posted on Thu. May. 23, 2013 - 01:00 am EDT

Decades later, Vietnam vets to get their welcome home

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Forty years after the U.S. withdrew its forces, local military veterans have begun raising money to honor and help those who served in the Vietnam War.

Allen County Councilman Kevin Howell, R-1st, announced Wednesday that Pizza Hut of Fort Wayne has committed $2,500 to what will be a $150,000 fundraising campaign.

The money will pay for a downtown parade and a health and social services fair at Memorial Coliseum.

The Oct. 5 events will coincide with the 50th anniversary of what organizers are calling the beginning of U.S. military involvement in the Vietnam War – although U.S. military advisers began arriving in Vietnam in the early 1950s.

The local events are “long-overdue recognition and appreciation for Vietnam veterans and their families,” Howell, a former Marine, said at a news conference at the Coventry Pizza Hut.

Jim Howard, an Air Force veteran of the Persian Gulf war in 1991, called on companies that support veterans to match Pizza Hut’s grant.

Howard said Vietnam veterans “were never properly welcomed home. This is just a great opportunity for this community to do that.”

Bennie Edwards said he served 21 months with the Navy in and around Vietnam in 1966-67.

“I think the Vietnam veterans deserve a proper homecoming,” he said.

U.S. involvement in the war – which had grown widely unpopular stateside – ended in 1973. Communist North Vietnam captured Saigon, capital of U.S.-supported South Vietnam, in 1975 to end the war and unify the Southeast Asian nations.

The start of U.S. military involvement is hard to pin down. The federal government says American casualties began in 1956. Eight years later, Congress gave President Lyndon Johnson authority to use military force, with aerial bombing and ground combat operations starting in 1965.

More than 58,000 Americans died in the war.

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