WARRENTON — Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate declared March 30 as “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day,” coinciding with the date the remaining U.S. troops withdrew from Vietnam in 1973.

 But in Clatsop County, Saturday took on a broader perspective, as the North Coast Marine Corps League Detachment-1228 put on a Welcome Home Veterans event. The nonpolitical celebration Saturday at Lum’s Auto Center in Warrenton honored all veterans and active duty personnel from all military branches. The Marine Corps League is an organization of active and inactive Marines and their families that supports the ideals of the Corps through various activities.

 A couple hundred people participated, most of them Vietnam veterans, but also from  other conflicts. Included were a 93-year-old woman who served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, those serving in Afghanistan and Iraq and active duty personnel.

Veterans and others clustered and reminisced in the showroom normally filled with new cars. John Snabel of Seaside stood talking with Stan Sonntag, of Ocean Park, Wash., about their Vietnam experiences. Snabel, an interpreter in the 2nd Battalion 1st Marine Division in 1967-68, recalled being wounded and spending 17 months with his arm and shoulder in a plaster cast. He noted that someone like Sonntag, a corpsman in Vietnam, had patched him up on the battlefield.

Sonntag joined the U.S. Navy in an attempt to avoid going to Vietnam, but ended up in 1968 attached to the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Division, “the Magnificent Bastards,” smack in the middle of the fighting. Corpsmen had a high casualty rate, because they put themselves in the line of fire to treat wounded Marines.

The celebration also offered music, free food and door prizes. Everyone received red and white carnations.

Singer and songwriter Pete Gannaway of Astoria received rousing applause for his original song “Freedom’s Price,” based on his experience in Iraq as a civilian truck driver.

Jim and Tamra Hunt and their children, Caden and Reagan, packed cardboard boxes with items for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. People who came to the event donated candies and other snacks, soap, shampoo, lotion and coffee. One veteran stopped by and dropped off a $100 bill to help with postage. 

Several people commented on the importance of supporting troops while they are deployed, but also remembering them once they return home – “offering an ear and a shoulder,” as one vet put it.

At a table covered with card-making supplies, Susan and Brian Walker, of Astoria, sat making greeting cards to be sent to deployed troops. Susan Walker said that the troops she knew had returned home so these cards were for service people who she didn’t know. But that didn’t matter to her.

Outside the building, Marine veteran Curtis Peugh and Dave Lum, owner of the car dealership, cooked hot dogs and hamburgers that were given away.

During the event’s opening speeches, Oregon Air National Guard Maj. Paul Evans, representing U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, quoted President Ronald Reagan, “Some people spend all their lives wondering if they have made a difference. … Marines don’t have that problem.”

    

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