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'Welcome Home' for Vietnam vets set for Saturday

His name is Edward McCrorey, but even at 61, as he walks through the hallway of the old York County building on Cherry Road, the name "Mutt" rings out.

McCrorey has been Mutt in Rock Hill on ball fields and streets and churches since he has walked - maybe before. He was Mutt on the worst battlefields on earth in Vietnam.

Mutt is not a pejorative. It is a nickname. A name of respect. A man with a nickname that has lasted 61 years through hell on earth in a war, and still counting - that's somebody known and loved.

This call-out came from the guy who runs that county building, a giant of a man in this city, Magistrate Judge Bob Davenport.

"Mutt, man, it is good to see you," said Davenport.

"Good to be seen," said Mutt.

Mutt is at the building Tuesday because it houses the county's veterans affairs office. That's where people who served in the military go to get their benefits handled, where they meet others just like themselves.

Mutt is more than some veteran. His hat says "USMC." His shirt says "Vietnam Veteran." His face says, when it comes to Vietnam and combat and what a skinny kid from Rock Hill had to do for his country, "Horror."

On Saturday at District Three Stadium, this area will honor vets like Mutt for the first time with a "Welcome Home" ceremony.

It comes 39 years after Mutt came home.

"Marines," said Mutt. "'69 to '71. Vietnam. Combat. Did things there, had to, so terrible and horrible that if I live to be 387 years old, I will never forget it."

Nearby in the county building, there's a guy from Fort Mill named James Spratt, 61.

"Army," Spratt said. "Drafted. 1969 to 1971. Combat."

Asked to describe what he had to see - and do - Spratt had one word: "Terrible."

And then another guy, Robert Pickett, 63, wore a hat that said "Vietnam Veteran."

"Vietnam. Army. 1966 to 1968," said Pickett. "Combat."

Pickett used no words to describe what he had to do to survive in that terrible war that split the country.

"I lived," was all Pickett said.

In the vets office getting assistance sat Charles Stone, 80, Vietnam veteran.

"Vietnam," Stone said, which tells anybody of death with just one word and place.

Forty-plus years ago, Mutt said, he and the others came home to no parades.

"And there wasn't nothing anybody could do about it," he said. "You come home and lived."

If you did live.

Countless soldiers from York, Chester and Lancaster counties were wounded in Vietnam. From York County alone, three dozen died.

Black and white and Catawba Indian, they all died. There is a monument at Lakeview Memory Gardens on U.S. 321 outside York with all the names on it. Their families have been invited to attend Saturday.

The ceremony is being put on by veterans groups, the families of National Guard soldiers currently deployed to Afghanistan, and other sponsors.

The veterans groups have already put up American flags and banners on the fence outside the stadium, across the street from the American Legion post, and they will accept more banners.

"Raymond Long, he was in my class right from the first grade in Fort Mill; he died over there," said Anne Cash of the Fort Mill VFW, and one of the organizers of the event that has been in the planning for more than a year.

She invites anyone with a connection to any Vietnam veteran to attend.

"Went all through school together," Cash said. "People have connections to that era, whether it is the soldier, the family or the community. That's why this is important.

"Nobody ever was thanked properly for all they gave."

Johnnie Robinson is a former commander of the Rock Hill Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2889 and is still active with the state VFW.

The Vietnam War was unpopular at home during the 1960s through the mid-1970s, Robinson said, but there was another reason many combat veterans like him came home with little or no fanfare.

When soldiers came back from Vietnam, he said, they came back as individuals - not as a unit, like today's military.

"You were lucky if anybody at home even knew you were coming until you got here," said Robinson, a veteran of both Korea and Vietnam who has given the past 40 years of his life in community service to other veterans. "This day is a long time coming."

Food, bands, flags

So on Saturday, all the stops will be pulled out for people like Mutt and Stone, Spratt and Pickett and Robinson.

Organizers will have all kinds of stuff for Vietnam veterans: ceremonies and food and bands, flags waving and pats on the back and handshakes.

All the stuff that returning soldiers get now, but vets did not get then.

Some vets walked home from bus stations after being gone to Vietnam for two, three years. The war was hell, but it created a special bond between people who had to endure it.

"We were all brothers over there," said Pickett the combat veteran.

"Didn't matter what you looked like, you had to depend on the guy next to you," said Spratt the combat veteran. "I got home, I took a cab home from the Charlotte airport. Nobody knew I was here until I got here."

Bob Davenport, the judge with a voice as loud as machine gun fire, said to Mutt - his friend for decades who he played ball with and laughed with so many times - these words Tuesday:

"Mutt, you ever need anything 'round here, you come see us."

Mutt smiled at that.

"I was proud to serve my country," said Mutt. "Nice to know my country is proud of me."

WANT TO GO?

What: Vietnam Veterans Welcome Home Celebration.

When: Saturday. Gates open at 8 a.m. Ceremony begins at 9:30 a.m. with a tribute to prisoners of war and those missing in action, followed by the massing of colors. Events will continue into the early afternoon.

Where: District Three Stadium, corner of Cherry Road and Constitution Boulevard, Rock Hill.

Who: Vietnam veterans of any branch of service. Advance registration is requested but not required.

Cost: Admission is free. All veterans will receive meal vouchers. Concessions will be on sale for the public.

Information: 803-417-8600 or rhfrg@truvista.net

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