America Supports You: Authors Plan 'Operation Welcome Home'
By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 22, 2005 Mike Jackson and Tara Dixon-Engel, co-authors of "Naked in Da Nang," a humorous account of Jackson's experience during the Vietnam conflict came to the Pentagon July 21 for a book signing and to promote "Operation Welcome Home."
The operation is an event aimed at giving Vietnam veterans the homecoming they deserved, but never received, Jackson said. "Nobody appreciates the need to welcome home the troops more than a Vietnam veteran. We did not get welcomed home in a very positive way," he said.
Operation Welcome Home is scheduled to take place in Las Vegas on Friday, Nov. 11, Veterans Day, and that weekend. Events will include a parade, USO performances, and an air show at nearby Nellis Air Force Base.
Jackson and Dixon-Engel would like to expand the festivities to a nationwide event, but Las Vegas is the only city that has firmly committed thus far.
As for Jackson's book, it has been a long time in the making. He began writing it more than 32 years ago, but never felt that the time was right to complete it. "I wanted to put down what I considered positive, humorous stories from Vietnam. Thirty-two years ago nobody wanted to hear about it, so it kind of fizzled out," he said.
This all changed three years ago when he decided to press on with the help of Dixon-Engel, a co-worker at the National Aviation Hall of Fame.
"I wanted to write a book that would treat veterans in a positive light, particularly Vietnam veterans," Jackson said. "I also wanted to give something to my daughters that showed the way it really was. We were the good guys."
Jackson served in the Air Force from 1968 to 1991 and flew 210 missions in Vietnam.
While promoting "Naked in Da Nang" Jackson and Dixon-Engel were overwhelmed with veterans wanting to tell their stories, so they decided to launch the American Veterans Institute to house these accounts.
"We wanted to have a way to capture these stories and preserve them. The American Veterans Institute is going to be a nonprofit organization that will have a research library that preserves veterans memoirs, stories, recollections and images," Dixon-Engel said. "Basically, we want to capture the history of the people who lived it."
"Everyone has a story, but over time they go away," Jackson added. "The same will be the case with the men and women fighting today. It's important that we preserve this history."
Jackson also understands the importance of giving today's servicemembers the support his generation did not receive. "As a result of what we experienced it is easy to see the need to welcome home the guys who are currently doing the job for their country."
Jackson said a great way to learn about ways to support the troops is through the Defense Department's America Supports You Web site. "I wish we had this program 35 years ago. I think it's absolutely fantastic," he said.
"Our goal now is to bring the Vietnam veterans into that fold, to make them more aware of the program, so that they can take a more active part in it," Jackson concluded.