1000s of Vietnam vets to gather at Lambeau Field

By Todd Richmond
Madison, Wisconsin (AP) May 2010

Thousands of Vietnam-era veterans are set to converge on Lambeau Field this weekend hoping for the words they’ve waited 40 years to hear: Thank you.

The Wisconsin Historical Society, state Department of Veterans Affairs, Wisconsin Public Television and more than two dozen other groups have invited veterans from across Wisconsin and beyond to the Green Bay Packers’ legendary stadium and grounds for food, camaraderie and memories.

“It is huge. It’s an opportunity to really say thank you and welcome to Vietnam veterans and their families,” said event director Don Jones.

The gathering, dubbed “LZ Lambeau,” is part of a project to document state Vietnam veterans’ experiences. The effort, called “Wisconsin Vietnam War Stories,” includes a broadcast documentary featuring interviews with scores of veterans, a companion book and discussion groups.

The event’s agenda is ambitious.

The event began May 20 with a dedication ceremony for a portable replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

On May 21 veterans set out on a motorcycle ride from La Crosse to Green Bay. They found about 20 military vehicles, including jeeps and a medical van, parked around Lambeau as well as a giant map of southeast Asia. Jones said he hopes veterans who served in the same areas but never knew each other will congregate at the map and meet for the first time.

“It was a very long war. Most soldiers went over as individual replacements,” Jones said. “They have really not known people who were there from the beginning to the end. They rotated in and out. Maybe they’ll find somebody on the map who was there when they were.”

Plans also call for a music stage, according to the LZ Lambeau Web site. Scheduled acts include Voices for Veterans, a group of veterans that plays in stress disorder programs at a veterans medical center in North Chicago, Ill., and She 5, a band of then-teenage girls who performed in Saigon, Long Binh, Dong Tam and Da Nang in 1968. Their performance will mark the first time since the 1960s the band has played.

“Unfortunately we will not be wearing mini skirts and go go boots. haha,” She 5 member Dar Ryba-Borchardt joked in a Facebook entry. She promised to play the Animals’ “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.”

May 22 begins with an opening ceremony by Wisconsin’s tribes. The day’s offerings include Vietnam-era aircraft at Austin Straubel International Airport, memorabilia, a sidewalk chalk area where people can write thank-you messages to veterans and an exhibit featuring the Brown County and Marshfield libraries’ efforts to locate an obituary or newspaper story about every Wisconsinite killed in action.

The centerpiece comes the night of May 22 with a veterans tribute ceremony inside Lambeau. The proceedings are scheduled to include previews of veteran interviews on the stadium’s screens and speeches by Gov. Jim Doyle, soul singer Ben E. King and former Packers quarterback Bart Starr.

LZ Lambeau winds down Sunday afternoon, May 23rd with a “Wiping of the Tears” ceremony, an Oneida Indian ritual to console warriors returning from battle. That will take place in Oneida.

The only LZ Lambeau event that requires a ticket is the Saturday night tribute. Tickets will cost veterans $2 and the general public $12.

Organizers said they’ve sold more than 20,000 tickets to people in 28 states. Brenda Krainik, marketing director for the Greater Green Bay Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said hotels around Lambeau are full for the weekend.

“It’s a big deal,” Krainik said. “For some it’s a once in a lifetime experience, being able to see their comrades again. It’s going to be a very heartfelt event.”

Andrew Thundercloud, 66, of Tomah, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, said he flew hundreds of missions as a medic in Vietnam and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

He was on the LZ Lambeau planning committee. He hopes to run across more medics – and maybe heal himself a little.

“Most of us feel we were never thanked for the job we did. I had a lot of ... ill feelings when I came back, for lack of a better word, how we were not welcomed home. You saw all the parades in World War II,” Thundercloud said. “There are a lot of people looking forward to this.”

On the Net:

LZ Lambeau