Sunday, March 10, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Johnny Comes Marching Home Again - Again -- Vietnam Vets Get Their Parade At Last

Times Staff: AP

It rained on the Vietnam veterans' welcome-home parade yesterday.

But it was better than no parade at all. And it was a step toward cleansing the memories of the hostile reception given many veterans returning from the Vietnam War.

The Fort Lewis and Vietnam-veteran color guards, flags held high, lead the march down Fifth Avenue to the Westlake Center. A few horns honked as cars sped by. Four people stepped out of Tex's Tavern and saluted the marchers as they chanted patriotic slogans.

As the country prepares to shower the 542,000 U.S. veterans of the Persian Gulf War with a hero's welcome, Vietnam veterans say it's about time somebody welcomes them home. Even if they have to do it themselves.

``For 19 years I have lived with a memory of something that I was never thanked for,'' said Mark Hendershot, an Army veteran. ``I really want to welcome home the Desert Storm troops but, gosh, they need to welcome us home first.''

Hendershot and his wife and daughter were among more than 200 Vietnam veterans and their families who marched and rallied at the Seattle Center Flag Pavilion to support the veterans.

``When I came back I got balloons full of urine and spit,'' said Bruce Longnecker, 44, retired army first sergeant. ``These Desert Storm guys are going to get balloons and hugs and kisses. They will know that people really care.''

Ed Kraft, 43, drives a Gai's Bakery truck route near Fort Lewis. Anger and frustration buried for 20 years began to seep out as he watched the Desert Storm troops pack up equipment and prepare to leave, and watched television accounts of their triumphant return.

Kraft trained the Vietnamese to take over river boats in 1969-70. He earned a Navy commendation medal for valor. But he never received any public recognition for his valor. And last week, as he watched the fanfare for the soon-to-be returning troops, he checked into a Vietnam veteran center for symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The Persian Gulf War resurrected feelings he had buried for 20 years.

``They are coming back as heroes,'' Kraft said. ``When I stepped off the plane in Orange County, a group of protesters over in the corner were yelling to me, `Baby-killer,' and `Warmonger.' The country is showing its respect for the troops coming back because they don't want to happen to them what happened to us the past 20 years.''

Valari Caine, 41, of Seattle, showed up with two young sons to remember a Tacoma man she used to date who was killed in action in 1966.

``I lost a boyfriend at the age of 19 in the war,'' Caine said. ``I kind of feel he died in vain. I wanted to come out and show support for him. We can't welcome the Gulf troops home without welcoming the Vietnam vets home first.''

Ten-year-old John Danner of Bellevue waved a sign that read, ``My Dad's a Hero.'' Steve Danner, 39, and his wife, both dressed in Army jackets and bush hats, walked with John and two other sons. Danner served for one year in Vietnam from 1971-72.

``When I got back in '72 I was made to feel like I was a piece of scum,'' Danner recalled. ``My friends from high school, the first question they asked was, `How many people did you kill?' They didn't say welcome home.''

The Vietnam vets do not want to see the latest wave of veterans follow in their footsteps either. Of the more than 3 million Vietnam veterans, an estimated 110,000 are homeless, as many as 59,000 may have committed suicide, 34,000 have filed health claims for ailments relating to the toxic defoliant Agent Orange, countless more are addicted to drugs or alcohol.

About 500,000 Vietnam veter-

ans suffer from PTSD. Symptoms include anger and rage, anxiety, chronic depression, isolation and alienation from others, sleep disorders and nightmares and substance abuse. PTSD was officially recognized as a disorder and included in the diagnostic manual of the American Psychiatric Association in 1980.

Parade co-organizer Robert Sturgeon is up most nights because of pain from injuries suffered as a Marine in Vietnam in 1968-69. Sturgeon and Sean Taeschner organized the parade to welcome home Vietnam veterans after all these years, and to lay to rest the ghosts which have haunted many Vietnam veterans since they returned.

``We don't want to take any of the glory away from the guys coming home, but this is our own parade,'' Sturgeon said.

Sturgeon pointed to the empty sidewalks along the parade route: No banners, no balloons. Few people watched. But they finally got their parade.

-- Associated Press reporter Nancy Costello contributed to this report.

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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