Vietnam vet recalls his sour return

Patrick Killian remembers the looks and name-calling he endured as a soldier during and after the Vietnam War.

When Killian wore his uniform through the streets of New York, strangers glared and called the man "baby killer."

Killian, a U.S. Army Training Center instructor at Fort Jackson, joined a national effort to ensure that never happens again. Operation America Rising has scheduled troop support rallies Saturday at state capitols across the nation.

In South Carolina, Killian expects a few hundred people to gather around the Statehouse in Columbia.

With him will be the Patriot Guard Riders, a group that shows support for families by holding flags at the funerals of servicemen.

"A lot of us go back to the Vietnam era, and we remember a country divided," Killian said. "We remember what it was like going through airports and walking down streets." Groups and organizations supportive of troops will set up booths, and various speakers will talk to the crowd from 1 to 3 p.m.

Supporters will include Blue Star Mother of America Inc. Ann Ricard, co-president of the group's Midlands chapter, said the show of support is important to the troops but more so to troops' families.

Ricard's son, Richard, of the South Carolina National Guard, was sent to Kuwait before the start of the Iraqi war. Early in the war, Ricard found comfort in seeing yellow ribbons and flags.

"That is what got me through," Ricard said.

Ricard said she can't say whether support for the troops has waned.

"I think it's a lot less evident that the support is out there," Ricard said. Ribbons have faded and fallen, and the flags have come down, she said.

The media, Ricard believes, have turned from humanizing the troops to criticizing the war.

Saturday she hopes to be part of the "positive" news.

After the march, Operation America Rising will launch into petitioning for a federal law barring funeral protests.

While the right to protest is part of the Bill of Rights, Killian doesn't think that its authors intended for protestors to jeer at family members during funerals.

South Carolina adopted a law in 2006 that made disrupting funerals illegal and barred protests within 1,000 feet of a funeral service.

Legislators pushed for the law after Topeka, Kan., church members began protesting at funerals, saying the deaths were God's punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality.

Killian said these protests need to be made in public arenas only.

"As a serviceman, I fully support freedom of speech as long as it's in an area where it's appropriate like the Statehouse steps," Killian said.

And the Statehouse is where Killian plans to make his statement in support of troops Saturday.