Lake Norman & Mooresville

Soldiers get newfound respect

When Nelson Lee was asked to speak at Donald Shue's tribute in Concord a few weeks back, the president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 909 took only 40 seconds of the crowd's time.

He welcomed Sgt. 1st Class Shue home after 42 years on a remote Laotian farm. He blessed Shue's family for the long wait for closure they've had to endure. His final words into the microphone to the masses gathered on Union Street that day carried a message Vietnam veterans hold so dear it has become their motto.

"Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another," said Lee.

Nine miles of crackling motorcycle mufflers roared a deafening amen.

Veterans received two memorial days to remember the fallen this year. The first came April 29, a full month before the national holiday, when Shue, a Cabarrus County native, came home to a hero's welcome more than four decades after giving his life during a secret mission in the Vietnam War.

Hundreds paid their respect to the fallen soldier at tributes in Kannapolis and Concord. Groups of men dressed in different uniforms gathered, some waving flags, others with motorcycle helmets tucked under their arms. Many wanted to make sure Shue received the kind of welcome they did not.

It's not news that Vietnam veterans were often met with protest when they returned to the states after their tours in the Vietnamese jungle.

After 40 years, serviceman John Luckey, who served in Vietnam for 16 months, 1970-1971, still chokes the words out when recalling his welcome home to the states.

"I was sitting at the bar waiting for my flight, and a girl came up and spit on me," he said.

In 1971, the funeral of his best friend, who died during combat, was sparsely attended.

"There wasn't 40 people at the church," said Luckey, a 1967 graduate of South Mecklenburg High School who now lives in Gastonia. "When I joined the Patriot Guard Riders, I was determined that would never happen again."

Luckey was not alone.

Hundreds of Patriot Guard Riders, a national organization created to pay respect to fallen soldiers and shield family and friends from the interruption of protesters, were joined by members of Rolling Thunder, another group that often travels by motorcycle to recognize POW and MIA soldiers.

"It was an experience to hear those motorcycles," said Lee, who served in the Navy and was stationed off the coast of Vietnam during the war. "It's respect. Pride in country."

Lee grew up in Concord, a proud Spider from Concord High School. Today he lives in Royal Oaks on Pennsylvania Avenue in Kannapolis, one street over from Betty Jones, sister of Donald Shue. They had never met before, but have spoken on a few occasions since word came that Shue was found.

Lee's own father was brought home to a hero's welcome more than half a century ago during World War II. He knows the peace that comes from having a soldier home.

"I feel so happy for that family."