HOUSTON — Cheering crowds turned out Saturday to watch a parade of thousands of Vietnam veterans, many in camouflage uniforms, some on crutches and some with children on their shoulders.
The parade, led by retired Gen. William C. Westmoreland, who commanded U.S. forces in Vietnam, stretched for more than two miles in muggy, 85-degree weather.
Although many of the marchers, estimated at 100,000 by police officials, wore fatigues, others were in full dress uniform. Several sported red ribbons that read: "POWs/ MIAs, You Are Not Forgotten."
Some of the marchers represented the air force of South Vietnam, which lost its civil war with North Vietnam in 1975. They waved the former flag of South Vietnam--yellow with three red stripes.
Older veterans from both world wars and from the Korean War joined the procession in cars.
'Welcome Home' Signs
Another 15,000 people lined the parade route, organizers said. Spectators waved American flags, yelled, "Thanks," and held "Welcome Home, Vietnam Vets" signs as the veterans and their families filed past.
"This is great," said Robert Powell of Houston, a veteran of the Army's 25th Infantry Division. "It's just a shame they didn't do it 20 years ago."
Army veteran Taylor Edwards of Baytown, clad in a black T-shirt decorated with a Purple Heart and Bronze Star, also bemoaned the delayed tribute.
"This was a wonderful occasion," Edwards said. "I'm sure it makes everyone out here feel our efforts weren't wasted. But why did they wait so long to have it?"
Sarah Villareal of Deer Park brought her two children to see their father, former Army Staff Sgt. Earnest Villareal, march past.
'Special Day for Us'
"It's all he's talked about for the last three weeks," she said. "It's a special day for us and all that served in Vietnam."
"In a winning war, everybody is supposed to remember, but this was a losing war, and it was forgot about," said Celestino Garza, 36, of Houston, who fought for a year in Vietnam. "This is something we've wanted for a long time."
The parade ended in Hermann Park, where a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington is on display.
Elsewhere in the nation, up to 7,500 people were expected at the annual "L. Z. Friendly" memorial weekend camp-out sponsored by a group of Vietnam veterans at Comer, Ga. Its name is Vietnam War jargon for a safe landing zone.
A dedication is scheduled Monday for the Ft. Mitchell Regional Veterans Cemetery in Alabama. The event will culminate a 20-year effort by residents of the area south of Phenix City, on the Georgia border, to turn the fort, established in 1813, into a memorial for veterans from the South. It is one of 10 regional cemeteries being established around the nation.