CHICAGO (WGN) — A small band of Chicago veterans believed it was never too late to welcome home American soldiers from Vietnam.
Little did they know, the project would affect thousands of veterans.
In 1986, Navy Pier served a much different purpose than it does today.
It was the starting off point for a parade to honor Vietnam veterans and it would become known as the largest parade of its kind in the nation.
It was held on June 13, 1986.
“It was kind of controlled chaos,” Harold Beyne, one of the parade’s co-organizers, said. “It was amazing we were able to pull it off with very little money.
Beyne and Roger McGill were part of the small group.
Inspired by New York’s parade the year before, they believed Chicago could do one better. They had the backing of then-Chicago Mayor Harold Washington.
“Without him, no parade,” Beyne said. “I mean, he was behind us.”
Relying solely on invitations to the VFWs nationwide and a phone bank of 50, the word spread quickly.
It was the largest Vietnam veterans parade to date. They came from the east coast to the west coast.
They marched from Navy Pier through downtown and ended at Grant Park.
Thousands of people attended, and thousands more watched on television.
For many, it was 11 years overdue.
“I wasn’t treated very good when I came back,” Roger Morrison, a Vietnam veteran, said. “Nobody at my work ever said welcome back or home, where were you? And that’s how I was treated.”
Three Chicago veterans who spent years talking only to a handful of fellow soldiers were now surrounded by thousands on that Friday in June.
The event galvanized veterans. Attendance at local VFWs went up, and new chapters of the Vietnam Veterans of America were established throughout the United States.