Iraq War veteran Justin Bond's talk with a senior church group last year became a call to action for Marti Nicely.
Bond, an Army sergeant from Hanford who lost his left leg after being shot in a battle with insurgents in 2004, told Nicely and her group about the physical and mental health problems U.S. soldiers face when they return from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Moved by Bond's message, Nicely and a committee of Fresno and Clovis residents have organized a welcome home parade Saturday for the recent veterans -- and for Vietnam War veterans. "I think we should have an opportunity to thank them," said Nicely, the parade's coordinator.
Earlier this year, Nicely saw a similar parade in St. Louis on the Internet. It became the impetus for the Clovis parade. About 300 veterans will ride in cars in the parade, starting at 9 a.m. at the Clovis Veterans Memorial District Building. Vietnam veterans will be paired with Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in each vehicle.
Vietnam veterans did not receive a warm welcome on their return and felt the wrath of political opposition to the war expressed by many Americans at the time, Nicely said.
"We're doing this so we can welcome them home, too, and let them know we appreciate what they did for this country," she said.
Bond, 35, is grateful for the parade and a job and resources services fair, planned from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Clovis veterans building. The fair goes hand-in-hand with a nonprofit -- Wounded Soldier and Family Relief Fund Inc. -- that Bond heads up to help veterans with disabilities and recovery from combat experiences.
"We help them find a new mission in life and get up off the couch," said Bond, founder and CEO of the relief fund.
Veterans advocate Charlie Waters supports the parade for the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. He said he is concerned about their mental well-being when they return. "They have to have their time to be honored and respected," he said.
The parade is being organized under the umbrella of Bond's nonprofit. Donations to help pay for the parade can be made to Our Heroes' Dream, a program under Bond's relief fund for veterans. Money collected beyond the expenses for the parade will go to Bond's nonprofit, Nicely said.
Bond said connecting recently returning veterans with Vietnam veterans benefits both generations: "It lets the current guys coming home realize, 'Wow, I'm not alone. Other people have gone through this.' "
How to help
Tax-deductible donations for the parade may be made at www.veterans-welcomehome.org/ or mailed to Our Heroes' Dreams, c/o 5741 N. Orchard St., Fresno, CA 93710.
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