Vietnam War veteran Steve Dant spent much of his Army service protecting civilians on the coastal planes, whose rice suffered raids at the hands of the Viet Cong. He kept the experience to himself for years after returning home.
Such efforts marked Dant and others like him as pariahs. Depending on what part of the country they returned to, some veterans couldn’t wear their uniforms in public for fear of retaliation.
Popular sentiment was not kind to veterans.
“There weren’t a lot of parades when we came home,” Dant said. “You really had to be careful who you talked to.”
Celebrations today such as the annual Colorado Springs Veterans Day Parade juxtapose the veteran experience of the past. Hundreds of supporters lined the streets Saturday to honor those who have or are currently serving.
In part, the federal holiday and accompanying parade act as a reminder to uphold a sense of reverence toward the selflessness inherent to a military position.
Vietnam veteran Tom Bock, who worked ground crew for the Air Force, was among those once warned to hide his uniform from sight. He now wears an American Legion cap with pride.
“We don’t want that to happen again to our country,” Bock said. “Unfortunately, rather than focusing on the fact of the war, they focused on those fighting the war. But we’re still here, and that’s what we believe. We don’t quit. We served then, and we’re serving today.”
Seventy-five groups and organizations from across the city and beyond marched down Tejon Street in this year’s parade. Among them was Tiffney Kindt’s daughter, a member of the Colorado Military Academy Civil Air Patrol.
Kindt was raised in a military family long before her daughter pursued the calling, regularly moving around the country as service demanded. She didn’t enjoy it in the moment, she said, but her appreciation has only grown in retrospect.
Regardless of time of year or national observance, Kindt goes out of her way to thank veterans when she sees them out in public, wearing embroidered hats, patches or other emblems of their service. They’re oftentimes caught off guard, she said, forgetting that they’re quite literally wearing their service on their sleeves.
A simple “thank you” brings a momentary spark to their eyes as they reconnect with their military years.
Her father says he sometimes loses touch with who he was in the military. Time and mental trauma can dull that aspect of self, Kindt said. The parade is an opportunity to revisit those feelings for longer than a fleeting “thank you” might entice.
“If they’re proud of it – some are not, but some are – they get to show that pride every year, and they get to feel that pride that they may have not felt because some people lose that sense of who they are,” Kindt said. “That’s what it’s about.”
As Dant and his wife, Sharon, watched the parade pass through an adoring crowd, he ran through the honors decorating his military resume: a combat infantry badge, a couple Army commendation medals, an Air Medal and a Purple Heart.
“You don’t go lookin’ for a lot of those. Usually they just show up.”
The difference? Today, he’s talking about them.