Fresno Grizzlies welcome home Vietnam War veterans with special event

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Before the Grizzlies hit the diamond, it was time for a welcome home long overdue.

Smokey Rickerd is a Vietnam veteran. He flew fighter jets during 288 combat missions. He was shot, he lost friends and despite all of that, he returned to a country that didn't open up its arms.

"I know when I got off the airplane when I got home, we were told go in and change your clothes," he said. "Don't go out there in your uniform, they're going to call you and they might assault you."

He's now the executive director of Amvets and helped organize the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Event at Chukchansi Park. Veterans were greeted by a line of current service members and supporters as they entered the park before the game.

"This is to honor them and give them what they deserved 50 years ago," Denise Baronian had the idea after hearing about her husband's experiences as a Vietnam veteran.

This is the second year of the event, with close to 500 Vietnam veterans sharing their stories.

"Many people that I've spoken to recently are saying that they're just now coming out of the shadows," she said. "They didn't even want to admit they were in the Vietnam War."



A special ceremony was held and Vietnam vets got two free tickets to the game but before he took all that in, Rickerd wanted to make sure every Vietnam vet got that long overdue welcome.

"Thank you for your service Vietnam vets, and welcome home," he said.

This is not the only event honoring Vietnam veterans in Fresno this week. The 19th Honor Flight will be taking off from Fresno this Monday and will take a plane full of local Vietnam veterans to Washington D.C. to see the monuments there.

Brandon Johansen will be joining them on that trip and will bring you full coverage on ABC30.com and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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