Afghanistan veterans welcomed home by Florida Legion post, community

A lot of effort went into the planning and carrying out of the Newberry, Fla., American Legion Post 149 “Welcome Home Afghanistan Veterans” event on Sept. 25.

But to event coordinator and Post 149 Legionnaire Bob Watson, it was worth every second of effort.

Watson estimates around 300 veterans and their families attended the event, which kicked off with a parade and was followed by a ceremony and other activities. Originally planned to take place at Post 149, the number of vendors wanting to participate forced organizers to change the venue to the 7,000-square-foot Clark Plantation.

Seeing the results of the hard work “felt real good,” Watson said. “But it was all for the vets. It’s worth it. It’s well worth the effort we all put in.”

The 15-minute parade included American Legion Riders and other veteran motorcycle groups, Buchholz High School Junior AFROTC, military and first-responder vehicles, vintage automobiles and two new M1152A1 Humvee cargo and troop carrier vehicles.

Following the parade, a ceremony took place at Clark Plantation that included remarks from local and state politicians.

During the ceremony, Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe said, “Today is not about why we went to Afghanistan, today is not about how long we were there, and today is not about how we left. Today is about saying thank you to the men and women who answered the call of their country.”

An expo also took place into the evening that included information booths on veteran benefits, counseling, employment and housing. Other activities included a car show, a silent auction and raffle, a mobile blood donation center, live music, food vendors, and a bounce house, face painting and balloon artist for children.

“When I came home from Vietnam, we didn’t get much help,” Watson said. “So I wanted something when they came home they could go to, at one location where you have the resources they’d need to be able to help them out.”  

Others shared similar messages, something Watson wanted from each speaker. “They were told no politics, and they abided by the rules,” said Watson.

Watson was able to speak to a few of the Afghanistan veterans who attended the event, saying they “were very pleased and happy.” Post 149 Adjutant Vickie Van Buren said that’s what the event was about.

“Back in the ‘60s and early ‘70s, when our (military) came back from Vietnam, they weren’t greeted with very much respect,” she said. “This, today, is to honor those individuals coming back from Afghanistan to make sure that they don’t experience the same thing that our Vietnam vets experienced when they came home.”