“We never had a welcome home. This is it for us.” -Ray Saldana, Vietnam War veteran
In Spring 2015, I headed to Winchester, Indiana for the Welcome Home Parade for Vietnam Veterans. As the smiling veterans marched through the quaint streets and waved to the crowd, I saw an elderly man with a walker. The man, who wore a Vietnam Veteran hat, stood and saluted every veteran who walked by. I had to speak with this man and approached him at the end of the Parade. I met Ray and his proud wife Virginia. I told him I admired how he stood for every veteran who walked by and he expressed the sentiment that I’ve heard over and over from Vietnam Vets; “We never had a welcome home, this is it for us. In California, I was called a baby killer and spit on.”
As a squad leader with the 3rd division Marines, Ray was injured 4 times but kept fighting. He was captured near the Cambodian border and was thrown into a bamboo box, which was three by three feet wide. Ray was routinely urinated on while trapped in the box and tortured by his captors by getting his fingernails torn off. His only meals came when he could catch a rat. One night, Ray finally saw an opportunity to escape and had to kill his guard. 40 years later, Ray still feels bad about the incident but he had to do it to live. The war affected him for years and still does, but it wasn’t until he met Virginia that he started to feel more like himself again. She stands by his side and you could really sense how much they loved each other.
By the end of his story, everyone was in tears and then I asked him what he took away from the Vietnam War. Ray replied “I’m proud to be an American.”