Click here to see The World-Herald's Cold War special section “On the Brink.”
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Individually, Americans tend to be patriotic and polite, especially here in the Midwest. We raise our children to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and to say “thank you” to someone for even the smallest kindness.
But Americans as a whole have some unfinished business involving gratitude, patriotism and a group who sacrificed in the cause of freedom.
I am talking about our nation's overdue need to pay tribute to veterans of the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Strategic Air Command and the rest of the Cold War era.
As individuals in Nebraska and Iowa, each of you reading this column has a unique opportunity to do something to help correct this oversight.
On Tuesday, the eve of the Fourth of July, bring a flag, come to the CenturyLink Center in downtown Omaha and help give hundreds of Cold War veterans a belated “thank you” for their service to our nation.
A parade saluting Cold War veterans will be part of a special Tuesday evening in downtown Omaha that also includes the TD Ameritrade College Home Run Derby and The World-Herald's 28th annual fireworks display.
About 500 veterans have formally registered to be part of the Cold War Victory Salute and more are expected to show up and join the festivities. Anyone who served from 1946 to 1992 is welcome to march in the parade.
The rest of us are encouraged to line the parade route and offer the welcome home salute that many of these service members never received.
You don't have to attend the Home Run Derby to be part of the salute. Downtown workers can drop by the parade before heading home. Others can head downtown for the parade, which is expected to last an hour or less, then make a night of it until the fireworks go off about 10 p.m.
The parade will start at 5:15 p.m. at 10th and Cass Streets. Veterans will emerge from the Grand Hall at the CenturyLink Center and march north. Supporters can stand along either side of 10th Street from Cass to the entrance of Lot C at TD Ameritrade Park on the east side of the stadium.
The parade's grand marshals are Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman and Fang Wong, national commander of the American Legion. Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle also is participating.
The World-Herald, Hy-Vee Supermarkets and the City of Omaha have teamed up to organize the event, along with a platoon of patriotic-minded volunteers from the area.
The idea for the parade came from the newsroom, where editors are preparing a book for publication this fall on the Cold War era. Like last year's popular book on World War II, it will include our best coverage from the newspaper's archives. As we have pored over our past stories and gathered new stories, it became obvious that Cold War veterans never received the magnitude of accolades and expressions of gratitude showered on veterans of World War II or even, in recent years, on the troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Cold War veterans, especially the ones who saw combat in Korea or Vietnam, often came home to indifference or hostility. The past can be partly blamed on logistics: Most servicemen and servicewomen who went to Korea or Vietnam flew into and out of the war zones by themselves. Units didn't come home en masse, as they often do now.
The cool receptions also were a consequence of national mood: In the 1950s, it was weariness at a bloody stalemate in Korea; in the 1960s and 1970s, disapproval and distrust of how the policymakers had botched Vietnam.
Vietnam vets often say they felt the sting of the country's disillusionment when they flew into commercial airports in uniform. They felt they were being blamed for the decisions of presidents and generals.
While some lessons from Vietnam and Korea are subject to debate, history has shown both to be critical chapters in the Cold War — a war ultimately won by the forces of freedom.
We honor all World War II veterans regardless of whether they were part of the defeat at Pearl Harbor or the victory in Paris. We honor all troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, regardless of our views of policies that sent them there.
It's time we properly honor and thank those who devoted years of their lives to preventing nuclear war and lifting the Iron Curtain.
Yes, the forecast for Tuesday is hot and humid. No hotter, I imagine, than the jungles of Vietnam.
Hope to see you there.
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