Vietnam War veterans in East Alabama will be honored by the Auburn High School community next week.
The East Alabama Vietnam Veterans Welcome Home Ceremony, scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday in the Auburn High auditorium, is what AP U.S. history teacher Blake Busbin calls “an Auburn High School gesture of gratitude.”
Through his AHS Veterans Project, Busbin’s students collectively have interviewed 274 veterans over the past few years. But he opted not to do interviews this year, deciding instead to host an event after the idea was planted by a parent.
“In November, I got an email from a parent, saying, ‘Why doesn’t the high school do a Veterans Day ceremony, given that all the elementary schools do it, and Drake Middle School?’” Busbin recalled. “I thought about that. I thought, ‘I don’t want to step on their feet, necessarily. But I think we can do something uniquely different, in line with our mission over the past few years, which has been honoring our Vietnam veterans.’
“I’d heard of a welcome home ceremony before, and I thought that would be something that we could do here that’s different than our interviews.”
A team effort
As the planning process has unfolded, the event has grown to include various clubs at the school, as well as some very special guests. Medal of Honor recipients Command Sgt. Maj. Bennie Adkins, an Opelika resident, and Maj. Gen. James Livingston, an Auburn University graduate, are scheduled to speak at the event.
Joe Galloway, Vietnam War correspondent and co-author of “We Were Soldiers Once…And Young” will be the keynote speaker. Galloway will be introduced by the son of the late Lt. Gen. Hal Moore, who passed away last year in Auburn.
“It’s incredible, the different ways that groups are helping out,” Busbin said. “The Auburn University Athletic Department is donating military appreciation coins. The local Marine Corps detachment has donated money to help out with the reception afterwards.”
Cheerleaders are making a “Welcome Home” banner, the school choir will perform a few patriotic pieces, and the Auburn University ROTC branches will present the colors at the ceremony.
“The ceremony’s going to be filled with a lot of memories of reflection, remembrance, and honor,” Busbin said. “The Auburn Fire Division is working with us to create a bucket truck entrance. Our Auburn High School JROTC is going to be creating a sword entry. It’s going to be a moment to just really say thank you.”
Students from Tiger Mochas, the AHS coffee shop operated by students with special needs, plan to serve coffee and hot chocolate during the event.
“I think that the military has quite the servant’s heart,” said Betty Schiffer, Tiger TRAILS teacher at Auburn and Tiger Mochas organizer. “And if there’s anything we can do to show them our appreciation, I think it’s phenomenal to encourage our students to take that approach as well.
“So from working with students with disabilities to students without disabilities, everybody has some capacity to serve. (Veterans) deserve the respect to be served and honored for their sacrifice, and for those that gave the ultimate sacrifice, to be honored as well.”
A family affair
The Disabled American Veterans has received lapel pins in accordance with the Department of Defense, and students will present the pins to all veterans in attendance who served during the Vietnam War, Busbin explained. As defined by the DoD, that’s any veteran who served between 1955 and 1975.
That’s especially exciting for Faith Leverette, an 11th-grade student in Busbin’s class. Her grandfather served in the Navy during Vietnam, and he plans to be in attendance at the Auburn High ceremony.
“As you know, Vietnam veterans were not really welcomed back when they came back home,” Leverette said. “He’s been going to Veterans Day things with me forever, since I was in elementary school. And he told me that this is the one that’s most meaningful to him, because it’s recognizing him for the stuff that he did and the war he fought in.”
During a trip to Washington, D.C., over spring break, Busbin visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and rubbed the names belonging to veterans with East Alabama ties.
“We’d heard from several Gold Star families who are planning to attend,” he said. “So we’ll be presenting those as well.”
Weather permitting, a Huey helicopter is scheduled to land at the school at 5:30, prior to the event. The Dixie Division Military Vehicle Club is expected to bring Vietnam-era vehicles for display, and a Georgia-based group of Special Forces veterans of the Vietnam War will bring a collection of memorabilia as well.
"This is a way to give our appreciation, even though it is a little late," Leverette said.
The event is free and open to the public. Golf carts will be available to shuttle visitors in the parking lot. Family members are welcome to attend with their veteran, but Busbin is asking anyone who plans to attend to RSVP in advance by emailing him at email@example.com, or by calling Auburn High School at 334-887-2120.
“So many people today don’t understand the experience of our military,” Busbin said. “For a democracy to thrive, the civilians and military must understand one another. This is an effort for us teachers to educate our students about war and the sacrifices of those who serve, and gain a greater appreciation for that.”