J.D. Collett and dozens of fellow Vietnam veterans received a standing ovation Friday night during a Country for Our Country event created to give Vietnam veterans the “welcome home” they did not receive after the war.
Collett struggled with anxiety and depression from what is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder until 2009 when he finally turned a corner and sought help. Now he is a certified peer specialist who counsels veterans struggling with decades-old mental and physical wounds and soldiers fresh from battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Events such as Country for Our Country are mending old wounds from an unwelcoming public after the Vietnam War, he said. Collett said it gives veterans a chance to bond and that the public is increasingly appreciative of their service and understanding that the appreciation is long overdue.
“Now we are being welcomed home,” he said. “It’s nearly 40 years late, but there is no such thing as too late.”
The Friday night event sold out, said Mary Pennington, who owns the Villa di Felicita facility with her husband, Paul Pennington.
Mrs. Pennington said there are some individual tickets remaining for the Saturday concert for $200.
For the past three years, the Penningtons have raised money through Country for Our Country to benefit soldiers returning from tours of duty and who have difficulty reintegrating into civilian life.
The past three events have raised more than $260,000 to purchase books, computers or to help soldiers finish their education. The Country for Our Country concert will feature Rodney Atkins, recipient of the Academy of Country Music’s Top New Male Vocalist of the year award in 2006. He has multiple awards and multiple No. 1 hits, including “If You’re Going Through Hell (Before The Devil Even Knows)” and “It’s America.”
Linda Rudd and Steve Hellmuth of Striping Technology sponsored Friday’s event.
The weekend’s event includes the American Veterans Traveling Tribute, a replica Vietnam War Memorial wall erected as part of the celebration welcoming Vietnam veterans home. Volunteers, many of them war veterans, helped assemble the traveling wall.
“When I saw these men putting up the wall and crying, I just can’t explain the feeling,” Mrs. Pennington said. “The best healing process for those veterans is for us to say ‘thank you.’”
Maj. Gen. Red Brown, of Lindale, said Vietnam veterans held the country together during a tumultuous time in the nation’s history. He said their experience was not forgotten and drives much of their service today as volunteers who welcome veterans home from ongoing wars.
“They remember what it was like for them when they came home and they work hard to make coming home a wonderful experience for soldiers today,” he said. “I know (Vietnam veterans) are appreciative, but their welcome home is long overdue.”