By Chris Farlekas
March 26, 2010
Port Jervis Floyd Babcock is still bitter.
"Even after all these years," he says, and his voice trails off.
Quietly he talks about coming home from Vietnam in the early 1970s,
being spit on and called "baby killer" by anti-war demonstrators in
California, as he came off the "freedom bird," the airplane bringing him home.
"That's the way a lot of us Vietnam vets were treated," he says with
a mixture of sad and mad in his voice. And when he came home to Port
Jervis, he says, all he found was apathy.
Last weekend outside Roosa-Fleming VFW Post No. 161, 47 Owen St.,
Port Jervis, Babcock and his buddy and fellow Vietnam vet, Don
Ostrom, were getting ready to put up a large "Welcome Home Vietnam
Veterans" banner, announcing big doings here Sunday.
In the midst of speeches, food and music, Sunday's event will be the
end of a journey from the spitting and jeering to a kind of
acceptance and peace although Babcock said "the war won't go away."
It'll stick to me and the others until we die," he said.
Searching the Internet late last year, Babcock saw that other
communities across America were belatedly holding welcome-home
celebrations for the vets of a war that officially ended in 1975.
But that date doesn't compute with Babcock or Ostrom, because for
them "and thousands of other guys, the war is not really over. It'll
never go away. We carry it in here," he said with haunted eyes, eyes
that vets call "the thousand-yard stare."
Ostrom added, "We're going to carry the war inside us to our grave."
The two talked about Babcock's best friend, Cy Kean, who almost a
year ago put on his uniform with all his medals, and drowned himself
in the Delaware. "He was still carrying the burden of Vietnam,"
Babcock said sorrowfully.
Kean's death was a precipitating factor in the gala welcome-home celebration.
"I'm hoping that what happens here Sunday will help us all heal," he
said. "And not just Vietnam vets, but all vets. We're hoping the guys
home from Iraq and Afghanistan come so we can support them. And not
wait for another 30 or 40 years for someone else in Port Jervis to do this."
Babcock said he's received a lot of help. About $4,000 has been
raised by other veterans groups and city merchants. The post's Ladies
Auxiliary and others are pitching in to make the food, which Babcock
said will include 400 pounds of smoked Boston pork, 500 sausage and
pepper and meatball sandwiches and more than 300 pounds of baked
beans and salads. Beer will be free; mixed drinks will be for sale.
"Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans" kicks off at noon Sunday, and
continues "until everyone goes home," Babcock said. He expects
500-1,000 people to attend. There will be a ceremony with several
speakers, featuring Mayor Russell Potter.
The celebration is free to all veterans and their guests.