Veterans to gather in Branson
Sunday, June 11, 2006
BRANSON, Mo. -- A massive gathering of Vietnam veterans will go on for a second year despite the loss of sponsors.
Operation Homecoming Branson brought droves of mostly Vietnam-era servicemen and their families here last year, but organizers feared it would be a one-time event when Texas billionaire Ross Perot and other sponsors decided not to back it again.
Mansion America Theatre, Anheuser-Busch and a handful of smaller corporate sponsors stepped up with funding, meaning the event will go forward this week as planned.
"The goal is to make this ongoing each year so as many Vietnam vets as possible can be honored," said event organizer Rob Frank. "Even today, I am still getting letters from wives and veterans on how this changed their lives this year. They say it was an opportunity to put the past behind them. And a lot of that doesn't have to do with Operation Homecoming, but with how Branson welcomes veterans."
Last year, hundreds of motorcyclists rode with beaming headlights and hundreds of others stood in salute atop highway overpasses as the event kicked off. It was an experience many said they'd never forget.
"We had such a great time last year, we had to come back," said Bruce Bowland, a Vietnam-era veteran from Gladwin, Mich., who will drive with his wife all night Monday to reach Branson.
Bowland will be reunited with his 75th Ranger Battalion, among more than a dozen groups holding reunions during the celebration.
"I'll see guys I haven't seen for 36 years," Bowland said.
Last year, some veterans complained of the difficulty in locating friends at the event. This year, organizers offered a "Find A Buddy Locator" on the event Web site and will have computers at the event to aid veterans as well.