By Kylee Zabel, Reporter
WNPA Olympia News Bureau
After what some felt was moving testimony about the realities experienced by military veterans was delivered by Vietnam Veteran Gill Calac Wednesday, the House Government Operations and Elections Committee approved a bill that recognizes March 30 as Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.
After a motion from Rep. David Taylor (R-15th District, Moxee) to suspend the committee’s normal procedural rules to move into executive session, members unanimously approved House Bill 1319 with a “due pass” recommendation to the Legislature.
Sponsor of the bill, Rep. Norm Johnson, (R-14th District, Yakima) was approached by the Yakama Warriors Association to introduce the legislation that would require the National League of Families’ POW/MIA flag be flown by public entities every year on March 30.
In addition to Johnson, 37 House members signed on to co-sponsor the bill, which included members of both political parties.
Though soldiers in the Vietnam War received heated criticism from anti-war advocates during the war itself, Johnson believes that it is time for Washington to pay its respect to those who risked their lives for a national cause.
“They were portrayed as baby-killers, war-mongers and other things,” he said. “It [coming home] was, perhaps, the cruelest aspect of that war.”
He continued, “There’s no way to go back in time to change that mistreatment. However, we have the opportunity to give these soldiers the recognition and the honor they deserve.”
Calac, a member of the Yakama Warriors Association, testified in support of the bill, thanking Johnson for bringing it forward.
“Closure is important,” he said. “Closure helps us put away the guilt, the shame, grief, and the huge betrayal issues brought up by the anti-protestors. These scars will never be forgiven.”
To potential critics of the legislation, Calac said, “We are not glorifying wars. Let’s just say to our Vietnam veterans, ‘welcome home.’”
Of the more than 58,000 Vietnam soldiers who died in Vietnam, 1,123 of those were from Washington State.
Calac urged lawmakers to not pass the bill for political advancement. “Don’t make this a political issue,” he said. “Don’t support this for the votes. Support this bill and make our state proud. We earned it, we believe in it. Give us that respect.”
The Yakama Warriors Association attempted to have Congress pass the same bill last year, but Calac said politics as usual got in the way.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau statistics, there are about 7 million Vietnam veterans in the U.S. More than 220,000 are estimated to live in Washington State.
The bill now goes to the House Rules Committee, which could advance it for full House consideration.