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Vietnam veterans are again victims of politics, nearly four decades after the end of the war.

This week California became the first state in the nation to mark an annual Welcome Home for Vietnam veterans. The date commemorates the 37th anniversary of the last combat troops leaving Vietnam and the exchange of prisoners of war that ended the Vietnam War for the U.S.

La Habra, among several other cities, issued a proclamation this month honoring the veterans.

Vietnam veterans “were not exactly welcomed back in the style the country usually receives its veterans,” said La Habra Mayor G. Steve Simonian during a recent ceremony honoring veterans. “From the bottom of our hearts, thank you, thank you, thank you.”

But, like so many times during the war, political wrangling got in the way of the veterans’ best interests. And for a time it seemed that a stalemate between Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state legislature would scuttle the official welcome home.

In September, Schwarzenegger threatened to veto bills on any subject until the Legislature made “comprehensive changes in our policies on water, energy, and corrections.” This prompted Vietnam veteran Assemblyman Paul Cook (R-Yucca Valley) and some of his colleagues to introduce the welcome home legislation and essentially dare the governor to issue a veto.

Schwarzenegger took the dare and vetoed the measure right after both houses approved it.

Enter Jose G. Ramos, the 61-year-old Vietnam vet who started the nationwide welcome home movement. The Whittier resident, who was a medic in the war, became an instant mediator between the governor and the Legislature.

“It was a mistake on both sides,” Ramos said. “It was kind of like the two big kids fighting.”

Within half an hour of the veto, Ramos, by telephone, had calmed both sides. A new bill quickly cleared the Legislature and this time the governor signed it.

— TRACY WOOD

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