SALT LAKE CITY -- It's been 45 years since American troops were withdrawn from the war in Vietnam.
Earlier this month Karl Potter from Duchesene received a Purple Heart for his service during the conflict.
The Vietnam War was a long one. American involvement spanned almost 20 years. While nearly 3 million American soldiers were deployed, 58,000 of them never returned.
For Americans at home, it was not a popular war. Returning veterans received no celebration or patriotic welcome home after their tour of service.
But that changed for Potter Sunday.
After returning to Vietnam for two weeks, a hero's welcome awaited him as he met his family at the Salt Lake International Airport Sunday.
Proud friends and family members cheered Potter’s arrival. Forty-five years after risking his life in the controversial war, Potter finally received his hero's welcome.
Potter’s daughter Trenna Cigarroa helped organize the reception.
“I believe it's well overdue. All Vietnam veterans, all veterans of any kind of war should be welcomed home for their service, even if you don't support the war,” Cigarroa said.
Potter, along with several other Purple Heart recipients, visited the battle grounds of four decades ago. It was a trip he said he would never take.
“It’s kind of a healing process I guess, in a way. But, I don’t think I’d have gone back if it hadn’t been for the other soldiers with me,” Potter said. “I probably wouldn’t have done it on my own. I just wouldn't want to do it that way.”
As Potter sorted through the visual and mental images both past and present, current soldiers from the Communist army looked on.
“There were soldiers all around. They were looking at us, we were looking at them, so they know we were veterans and we knew who they were too,” Potter said.
Military officials joined Potter’s friends and family in the special welcome home.
“It lifts my spirits a little bit to know that we can still provide a service for one of our veterans that maybe didn't receive the welcome home that he deserved,” said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Bruce of the Utah National Guard.
Although the horrific memories of the war are permanently etched in his mind, his trip was therapeutic and he knew he would come home.
“The good thing about it is this was a two-week tour instead of a year and I realized that I’d be coming back hopefully, and not getting shot at this time so that did make a difference,” Potter said.
In spite of being a veteran shunned and unappreciated four decades ago, Potter’s love for his country and his compassion for his fellow soldiers remained strong.
“It’s the best country in the world,” he said. “I hope everybody that was with me on the trip gets the same treatment that I’ve got today. I feel humbled and I appreciate it.”