Vietnam era veterans and their families will get the thanks and honor of a grateful community. LZ:RGV - Operation Welcome Home is on Saturday, April 9 at the McAllen Convention Center. I am proud to be a part of this long-overdue tribute, which includes honoring those who never made it back home, like my good friend and war hero Freddie Gonzalez.

The Healing Wall, a replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington will be open to the public from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m, along with an exhibit, from Thursday to Saturday. It lists over 58,000 names of those who lost their lives during the war.

I expect there will be tears shed and smiles made, I know that I've been moved by the stories I've heard and the veterans I've met. But, Operation Welcome Home is not intended to dwell only on the past. It will be a day of education, information and celebration. The Veterans War Memorial located just east of the McAllen Convention Center will kick off the day-long event at 10:30 a.m. with a dedication ceremony of a new memorial installment. At 1:00 p.m., a series of workshops and information booths begin and are presented by veterans’ organizations or agencies; and a memory room is available for veterans who want to display photos, medals or other memorabilia. In the main hall, a locally-produced play, “Pat & Lyndon”, will perform followed by the Corpus Christ Veterans Band. Outside, a large map of South Vietnam showing areas of operations and major battles is on display as well as a military vehicle exhibit from the era.

LZ:RGV - Operation Welcome Home finale begins at 6:00 p.m. in the main hall. The program will include Retired Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, guest speakers, live entertainment and music from the Vietnam War era performed by major concert headliners. Videos featuring veterans and others will be representative of the South Texas Vietnam War experience and are sponsored by H-E-B. Other major sponsors are: Entravision Communications; Linebarger Goggan; L&F Distributors-Budweiser; IBC Bank,  the del Rio Group, Carrera Communications, Joseph Palacios Family of Edinburg, Mayor Richard Cortez and the City of McAllen.

April 9 is National POW day and our Prisoners of War will be honored along with our MIA and KIA. A special tribute is planned to honor all veterans and our troops overseas because they all deserve our gratitude; however our primary focus will be for those who were caught in the middle of a contentious political battle over America's involvement in the war.

These honorable men and women deserve our recognition and gratitude. An unprecedented 40 proclamations have been received in support of LZ:RGV Welcome Home South Texas Vietnam Veterans Day including all five counties, including their cities and schools, that comprise the Rio Grande Valley and the Texas State House and Senate.

I invite veterans and loved ones to come out to this historic event. I encourage others to come out to show our solidarity and support. Registration is not required and admission is free. The web site, LZRGV.com, has a schedule of events and more information.