Wyoming Welcomes Home Vietnam Veterans
Staff Sgt. John Cudney wanted to, but couldn't, serve lunch to some guys 43 years ago.
Cudney and five other soldiers had just arrived by plane from Vietnam to an enclosed hangar at Travis Air Force Base in California after midnight one day in November 1972, he said.
"There was about 12 or 14 guys outside with their little bags of, I thought it was lunch for them, but this major wouldn't let us go," he said. "There was 12 of them and about six of us, and we felt that was about right."
The group outside had bags of human excrement and intended to throw at the returning soldiers, Cundy said. "I felt they were hungry. I thought we should help them eat it."
Decades later, he and hundreds of other Vietnam veterans gathered in Casper on Friday were offered a much better luncheon without the prospect of a fight at the weekend-long Welcome Home reunion at the Casper Events Center
Cundy's simple comment to the organizers: "Thank you," he said.
In recounting his service, he said he volunteered to go to Vietnam, even though he had already spent eight years in the Marine Corps. While there, he flew aerial reconnissance.
His 40-year military career ended in 2003, he said. "I was in Gitmo questioning detainees and they told me, 'you're too old, go home.' I turned 60."
Cudney now lives in Sheridan and came to Casper for the speeches by Sen. John Barrasso; Lt. Lee Alley, the state's highest decorated Vietnam veteran, and vice chairman of the Wyoming Veterans Commission; and Gov. Matt Mead.
This year, Mead said, marks the 50th anniversary of the active ground war in Vietnam, and the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon.
Of the millions who served in the armed forces during the Vietnam era, 16,000 were from Wyoming and 2,700 were deployed to Vietnam.
More than 58,000 were killed, more than 150,000 were injured, 68 prisoners of war were released at the end of the war, and 1,600 people remain unaccounted, he said.
Of those who served from Wyoming, 120 lost their lives, Mead said.
If those 120 could speak, they might say, "'Many of you did not come home to parades, to brass bands,'" Mead said. "'Instead, many of you came home to the crushing sounds of silence. Or worse, many of you came home to the gonging sound of hatred.'"
They also would recognize that no one here started the war, Mead said. "But you were the group that served, that served with distinction, with honor, and did your duty. From offices to cockpits, from cooks to combat, you all did your duty."
While the war ended in 1975, its consequences did not as veterans suffered from mental and physical ailments, and struggled with the lack of recognition of what they did, he said.
The recognition is long overdue, Cudney's daughter Joannie Thilman said after the ceremony.
Thilman and her husband drove from Soda Springs, Idaho, to join their father this weekend.
Cudney's daughter expressed her gratitude to those who supported and sponsored the Welcome Home event this weekend.
"They deserve it," Thilman said. "If we can make up for what happened when they came home, then I think it's just great."
Towards the end of the ceremony, she went to her father and hugged him.
"I just love my dad and appreciated his service and I knew this was going to be hard for him and so I just felt like going and giving him a hug and letting him know that it's okay," Thilman said.