LONGVIEW, Texas (KETK)- The Vietnam war, a period of time between 1954 and 1975, where more than 3 million people died. Although the battle is now over, one East Texas group is trying to heal and honor the scars of those who fought.
Since 2003, more than 2,000 veterans across the country have received a Quilt of Valor. Handcrafted and patriotic, the quilts are given to veterans as gifts of comfort and gratitude.
For three East Texans, it’s a gift that will keep them warm, as they continue to remember the cold nights they spent in Vietnam.
“We want to have a welcome home and a heartfelt homecoming from us to all of you that served in Vietnam. Can we give them a hand,” says Brad Clark, a United States Marine officiating the ceremony, as he encourages the whole room to clap for the men being honored.
Three Vietnam Veterans were honored in Longview, after putting their lives on the line nearly 40 years ago.
“It’s imperative, it will keep them alive, it gives them faith, and the warmth to come home,” explains Clark.
Commending his fellow brothers in uniform, Clark says ceremonies like these are crucial.
“They need it, they’re healing, they’re hurting. They’ve seen things with their eyes, they’ve felt pain that we can never understand,” says Clark.
Inside the VFW post in Longview, the men honored was each given a Quilt of Valor. Placed on their shoulders by the hands that made it.
“Well we’re here tonight to welcome these folks home officially,” says Clark during the ceremony, explaining this is their welcome home party, the one they didn’t get when they returned years ago.
Talking to the recipients, Clark thinks back to how he got here.
“At five years old I knew that I was going to be a United States Marine,” Clark says he wanted to be part of something greater, “I love my country, I wanted to serve, I wanted to protect people.”
Among those honored in the ceremony was Adolfo Alejandro, or how many people call him, Al.
Born and raised in the state of Texas, Al knew he wanted to get out and experience the world, not knowing his journey would lead him to Vietnam, now back home in East Texas, he says his experience has changed him forever.
“When I was sixteen I went to a recruiter in Abilene Texas and said man I want to join the Marine Corps,” says Alejandro thinking back to the very day.
From the winter of 1966 to early 1969, at just 17 years old, Alejandro says he had no idea what he was in for.
“Before I knew it I was in boot camp in San Diego California scared,” Alejandro served two tours in Vietnam waking up and hoping he would make it to see the next day, “as a marine, you had tradition. Marine always stood out, first to fight, first to die.”
The enemy around him, waiting to attack at any second, Alejandro says its something a person will never forget.
“Gun fire erupts out of the village, wounds two marines. This happened in a snap,” describes Alejandro.
It’s a moment that will stick with him forever, as he watched two members of the Vietnam Guerilla Force run into a nearby house. After firing a rocket missile, the threat was gone, but devastation followed.
“Something told me to go to that house, you know where the two VC were and it was all in shambles and I seen the two dead VC, but there was a mother and two kids in there too and they got killed. So what do you do?,” Alejandro asks.
The thought of coming home pushed him to the next day, but once he returned to the States, he received anything but a warm welcome home.
“Thousand of protesters calling the Marines baby killers, murders, all kinds of things, and go back, it was just all hate,” describes Alejandro.
Afraid to wear his uniform, now Alejandro wears his veterans hat proudly, and looks at his Quilt of Valor as a symbol of acceptance.
“It’s like opening up the windows and letting the light in and fresh air. I wish it had happened then, but now I’m still alive so this, hey these people finally realizing,” says Alejandro.
It’s a feeling he says he won’t forget. Now, the words “thank you for your service” has a brand new meaning. Faith, as he tries to find comfort in every stitch of this labor of love.