Vietnam veterans share heartfelt stories

 WGVU General Manager Michael Walenta addresses the crowd to kick of LZ Michigan
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WGVU General Manager Michael Walenta addresses the crowd to kick of LZ Michigan
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Vietnam veterans shared emotional stories of returning home from war and feeling like outcasts. They spoke at an event on May 24 to kick off LZ Michigan, a welcome home celebration to honor Vietnam War veterans for their sacrifice and service. LZ (Landing Zone) Michigan is scheduled for Saturday, July 3, at Fifth Third BallPark in Grand Rapids.

Vietnam veterans will be honored, including those who were killed or declared missing in action. The event will feature speakers, musical entertainment, displays, a motorcycle rally and a video from the premiere of “Vietnam War Stories.” The celebration will close with fireworks.

Speakers at Monday's event at Fifth Third BallPark included Vietnam veterans Michael Woods, Stan Cheff and Ron Oakes, Congressman Vern Ehlers, West Michigan Whitecaps CEO Lew Chamberlin, and state Sen. Bill Hardiman.

"This is long overdue," said Vietnam veteran Ron Oakes. "I still know some Vietnam veterans who are bitter and won't talk about the war. They refuse to join any organizations related to being a vet. I believe LZ Michigan can help; we're going to try."

State Sen. Bill Hardiman shared his story about serving in Vietnam and said LZ Michigan will be a time of healing. "We have our treasure, our heart for American when we served and we were never welcomed home," said Hardiman. "It is just and it is right to thank our Vietnam veterans and I know LZ Michigan will bring healing."

Connie Dang, director of Multicultural Affairs at Grand Valley State  University, thanked the Vietnam veterans for saving her family. Her family was one of the last to be rescued out of Saigon.

Tickets for LZ Michigan can be reserved at www.lzmichigan.org or by calling 800-442-2771. Adult tickets are $10; Vietnam and Vietnam-era veterans receive complimentary tickets. All proceeds will be used to support programming at LZ Michigan.

For a complete list of sponsors, partners and event details visit www.lzmichigan.org.

LZ is an abbreviation for landing zone, military slang for a helicopter clearing where supplies or troops are landed. This statewide effort will culminate in a day of recognition and celebration of their service and sacrifice. The event is not political or military; it is the community’s expression of thanks, support and welcome for the men and women who served in Vietnam.

DOWNLOADABLE AUDIO:

* Vietnam and Iraq War veteran Ron Oakes said it is time for a ceremony like LZ Michigan (audio).

* Ron Oakes said he hopes LZ Michigan will help Vietnam veterans who are still hurt by how they were treated when they returned home from war (audio).

* State Sen. Bill Hardiman said Vietnam veterans gave all they had for our country but those who fled to Canada were considered heroes (audio).

* Hardiman said LZ Michigan may help some veterans be able to share their stories for the first time (audio).

* Hardiman said the emotion seen and felt at the event means LZ Michigan could be a time of healing (audio).