LAYTON — Vietnam veterans proudly marched down the streets of Layton in patriotic garb Saturday as they participated in what Dennis Howland called the "welcome home parade they never got."
"This was a great welcome home parade that Vietnam vets have been waiting for, for 40 years," said Howland, the president of the Utah State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America.
He estimated nearly 3,000 people participated in the parade, when combining the veterans who walked or drove in the parade with those who watched and cheered.
Some within the Vietnamese community also participated, which Howland said was important and welcomed because "they fought right beside us."
The parade itself was part of a day-long event organized by the Utah Sounds of Freedom group held in Layton Commons Park, which was filled with several shade awnings harboring patriotic products, hot rods parked on the grass, music, food trucks and contests to celebrate the Vietnam veterans after the parade.
"We have veterans at the booths, we have some participating in the auction, we have veterans bringing out their hot rods, everything is involving veterans," said LT Weese, an event organizer. "The turnout was bigger than I thought. It's amazing how the community came out for this."
Others weren't so surprised by the community involvement, because many who attended know veterans or have family members in the military.
"They protect our country and they keep us safe. When I couldn't be in the service, they were protecting me," said Barbara Cannon who went to the event because she wanted to thank veterans.
Organizers of Saturday's "The Day They Deserve" event decided to honor Vietnam veterans while planning the day nearly eight months ago, according to Weese. he said he hopes Saturday's events allowed people to place any negative thoughts about the war or military aside and "have some fun with our veterans."
Groups of all ages interacted with Vietnam veterans throughout the day and appeared to be enjoying the activities, including many who were dressed in outfits inspired by the era — specifically those who were inspired by the pin-up culture.
"We were in the pin-up contest, but we also of course support the veterans," said Dottie Deuce, president and founder of Dottie's Dames Pin-ups, a charity and community action group, as she and other members of their group thanked veterans and posed with cars from the Vietnam era.
Other children were running around the park enjoying inflatable slides and gawking at the classic cars from the past, especially a Volkswagen bus and truck hybrid and its matching motorized scooter.
The patriotic evening ended with live music in the park. Profits from the event will be used to create a Vietnam veteran memorial, which will be located on the north end of Layton Commons Park.