Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Vietnam vets honored at Spokane event

Larry Welch, U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division, displays his combat medals during a ceremony at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena to honor Vietnam veterans, March 29, 2016, in Spokane, Wash. The day marks the anniversary of the last day on which U. S. troops were on the ground in Vietnam. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Larry Welch spent just 3 1/2 months in Vietnam, but it was plenty.

“I’ve been shot, beat up, poisoned and sprayed,” Welch, 67, said Tuesday at a commemoration marking the end of direct U.S. military involvement in the Vietnam War on March 29, 1973. “I seen too damn much in 3 1/2 months.”

Welch, who served in the 82nd Airborne combat infantry, was one of about 30 Vietnam veterans who gathered just before noon on the south side of the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena. It’s been 43 years since the U.S withdrew from Vietnam, but Tuesday’s event was part of a nationwide, multiyear commemoration of the war and the people who served in the armed forces during that time. From Memorial Day 2012 to Veterans Day 2025, events across the country will remember the 58,200 American troops killed during the war and the nearly 153,400 who were wounded.

Welch was one of the wounded, and he said he was lucky to survive when a “Bouncing Betty” land mine exploded about 5 feet from him.

“It blew me about 25 feet,” he said. He lost an ear, the wound became infected and he spent two weeks in a field hospital. After some time in a Japanese hospital, he was sent to Fitzsimons Army Hospital in Colorado for six months – far from his hometown of Kalispell and the Agent Orange in Vietnam that left blisters on his arms, neck and back.

Welch came to Tuesday’s event with other members of the Colville Confederated Tribes Honor Guard – Lucky Joe Boyd, 73, Harvey Moses Jr., 67, and Jim Smith, 68. The men provide funeral honors for tribal veterans.

Like many of the attendees, Jim Golly, 69, said he welcomed the commemoration as a change from their homecoming during the war.

“It was a bad time. The country was divided,” said Golly, who served three tours between 1966 and 1970 in the Navy aboard a tanker that delivered fuel and ammunition between Da Nang and Saigon. “We weren’t welcomed home. I get way more thanks now than I ever did then.”

The stress of war tore his young family apart, Golly said, a fact made only slightly better by the kinship between fellow soldiers.

“The camaraderie you develop in that environment, you become closer than you do with your own family,” he said, noting that his marriage didn’t survive but “relationships are mended” with his daughter, who was a little girl when he went to war.

Spokane Mayor David Condon spoke to the gathered veterans, telling them that “the Spokane community remains in awe of our veterans.”

“We value what they believed in and what they died for,” he said. “Your service will never be forgotten. You will never be forgotten.”

The nationwide commemoration honors all veterans who served between Nov. 1, 1955, and May 15, 1975, regardless of whether they set foot in Vietnam.

John Gomez, 63, was one who didn’t enter the southeast Asian country but who helped build a camp in Guam as 50,000 refugees poured out of Vietnam after the U.S. withdrew.

“We had to build a refugee camp out of the jungle,” Gomez said. “We worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week for one month. We carved that camp out of nothing.”

Tuesday’s Spokane event was organized by the Daughters of the American Revolution. A similar group, Sons of the American Revolution, handed out cards to Vietnam vets in the Spokane VA Medical Center and homeless veterans outreach center downtown.