Veterans want to 'return patriotism' to Detroit

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — After returning from the Air Force to Detroit in 1972, Richard Chatman headed to suburbs like Dearborn and Royal Oak each year for Veterans Day parades because there wasn't anything organized in his city.

That was until he and other members of the Metropolitan Detroit Veterans Coalition started the Detroit Veterans Day Parade more than a decade ago.

Air Force veteran Richard Chatman, 70, talks in front of the dismantled Michigan War Veterans Memorial in Detroit on Nov. 8, 2019.

"I remember going to Veterans Day parades when I was a child within the city, but don't know why it fell off," said Chatman, 70. "We started small, just a block-and-a-half-long march around Grand Circus Park."

Now in its 14th year, the parade has grown into a day-long celebration in Corktown that will start at 8 a.m. Sunday with an Armed Services Salute, the 4 Star 4 Mile Race, which runs alongside the parade, and a family-friendly Vets Fest afterward. This year's theme is "Inspiring Patriotism Through Community Service." with more than 4,000 people expected to attend.

Chatman, who served in an Air Force communication squadron from 1968 to 1972, said he's especially proud this year's parade will commemorate the centennial of the American Legion, an organization of U.S. war veterans. 

They plan to honor Grand Marshal Barry Wood, department commander of Michigan's American Legion; U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, will present an award to the daughter of the late Judge Damon Keith in honor of his service in World War II; and U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, will receive the Rider of Honor award for his service as lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve.

Chatman said they started the parade because they "didn't see much vocal patriotism from those within the come-back city." He shared very little memories from his time in the service, saying "it was great, but returning home wasn't."

"Vietnam was not a popular war and the names that I was called and some action- people actually spit at me was not good, especially after serving four years, to give them the right to do that," he said. "But what it did was teach Vietnam veterans a lesson. We're going to make sure that Afghanistan, Iraqi veterans don't go through that. That's why you see when they come home, people are there saying 'welcome back'' because it hurts."

Although the parade has consistently grown, he said he wishes they had more support.

"There are more veterans in Detroit than any other city and more in Wayne County than any other county in the state," said Chatman, past chair of the parade. "I wish we could get more veterans and citizens to show up because, for us, it's like a reunion on Veterans Day. We enjoy marching through downtown and it reminds us of the days when we were in uniform."

The parade will begin at the IBEW Local 58 union hall in Corktown at Abbott and Trumbull, much like veterans of yesteryear marching along Michigan Avenue to the Michigan Central Station for deployment, officials said.

Members of the Civil Air Patrol marched in the Detroit Veterans Day Parade on Sunday.  This year commemorates the 100 year anniversary of the end of World War I.

About 400 runners with the 4 Star 4 Mile Race will take the starting line at 8:30 a.m. alongside the parade in honor of a military or service member.

Doug Howell, who served in Vietnam, and spent three years with the Marines, started the race in 2016 as something community members could enjoy doing with veterans.

"When I came home from Vietnam, I realized there was a real disconnect between the civilian population and military," said Howell, 73. "I think we've done a good job of understanding it's not the soldiers' fault that there's a war and we've begun to appreciate them more, but still less than 1% of the population is in the service. ... When we return, we need a sense of belonging."

Howell and his special landing force unit were ambushed by the North Vietnamese army on a mountain at the border of Laos. On July 24, 1966, nearly 200 Marines climbed over the top of Hill 362, but only 63 walked down 48 hours later, he said.

"We had brought our dead and wounded Marines with us to the top of Hill 362 and made a thin perimeter around them the best we could," he said. "There were somewhere between 3-400 of the Vietnamese regime (that) surrounded us and pummeled us."

He had been running from the memories of Hill 362 ever since, until he received a call in 2007 from one of his squad members who wanted to return to the hill to set up a memorial for their fallen comrades. Howell returned to Vietnam five times in attempts to find the right hill and place the memorial.

"I learned a lot about myself, the Vietnamese people and the worth of life," he said. "My trips back are as significant as the war was. We nearly lost some of our guys returning to Vietnam to plant that memorial. It was a very powerful experience."

Howell told his story at the Charles H. Wright Museum and published a book on it in 2013.

Hall, a professor at Wayne State University who runs six miles each day, said four miles is an unusual distance, but he wanted the race to be unusual.

"It's a dream come true to have created this race and it's still a labor of love to me," he said. "... We still want to serve; even though we're out of the service, we want to show the community that we can return to the fabric of society and that they will embrace us."

Twitter: @SarahRahal_