OGDEN -- This year's Veterans Day parade in Ogden could break some sort of record for grand marshals: Utah has more than 50,000 Vietnam War-era veterans, the Veterans Administration says, and they're all invited.
That's more than half the population of Ogden.
The fifth annual parade will take place Nov. 12 on Washington Boulevard, marching from 18th Street to 24th Street and then over to Lindquist Field for a patriotic ceremony.
The grand marshals of the last two parades have been veterans of World War II and the Korean War. This year, the organizers want Vietnam War veterans to be the guests of honor.
Veterans of Foreign Wars Commander Dennis Howland, himself a Vietnam War veteran, said he's prepared to be surprised by the turnout.
"Two years ago, we thought if we had a dozen World War II vets we'd get excited, and we had 160," he said. "The Korean War vets were good, too."
This year, for Vietnam veterans, "we feel it's time to welcome them home again," he said.
"Maybe the timing is better now, but I've always felt the Middle East wars are one of the better things that happened to Vietnam veterans because people are recognizing the value of our combat soldiers again."
For a variety of reasons, soldiers returning from Vietnam were not given formal receptions or parades.
Soldiers rotated in and out of the war as individuals, not as whole units, so they mostly came home alone while the rest of the unit stayed behind.
Political opposition to the war meant many came home to a hostile, anti-war environment.
Many felt they were supposed to just come back and pick up their civilian lives again, and the VA has since admitted that services for Vietnam veterans experiencing problems with PTSD, Agent Orange exposure and other things were lacking.
Howland said Utah had the fifth-highest rate, as a percentage of population, among states for sending men of draft age to Vietnam.
Utah sent 28,000, or 8.6 percent of the draft-age population. The national average was 6.9 percent.
Howland finds the Utah figures ironic because "there's so many young men who went to college or went on missions. I find it quite interesting."
Killed in the Vietnam War were 388 Utahns.
Utah has nearly double the number of Vietnam-era veterans now because many moved to the state for military service or to retire.
This is actually the second time Vietnam veterans will be honored in an Ogden parade. The first was in 1991 after the Gulf War, when Ogden hosted a huge parade to welcome the troops home and a small group of Vietnam veterans took part.
Howland was in that parade, and admits the group was very small and probably didn't look very military.
Most wore what bits and pieces of their uniforms that fit. Howland wore, and still has, a rain coat made from his part of a two-man pup tent.
"It was a typical ragtag bunch that we were. Rich kids and poor kids, farm kids and city kids. It was a time of growing up in this country. It was a time that, in my home, it was the right thing to do."
But there were only a couple dozen Vietnam vets in that parade.
"Vietnam vets weren't really joiners, but it's really key to let people know that the Vietnam veterans are the grand marshals," he said.
Howland said he hopes to get the word out that all veterans, not just wartime or combat veterans, are also welcome to join the parade.
"We've got people today who say they aren't veterans. I say, 'You wore the uniform?' and they say 'yes,' and I say, 'You are a veteran.' Young people don't realize they are veterans, and we honor them as well."
The parade will have more than 50 units, which Howland said makes it the largest Veterans Day parade in Utah.
The parade was revived by Ogden veterans five years ago after none had been held for nearly 50 years.
The parade will include a flyover from Hill Air Force Base, marching bands, active-duty military units and historic and modern military vehicles.
A dress ball featuring big-band music will be held the night before at the Roy Elks Lodge.
"This year, I get to make good on a lot of promises I made to a lot of good men," Howland said. "We came back 40 years ago, but maybe this time, we can come home."
Veterans Day parade
Organizers are encouraging all groups who want to take part in Ogden's Veterans Day parade to do so. The parade planning committee meets at 6:30 p.m. every Tuesday at VFW Post 1481, 907 W. 12th St., Ogden.
Everyone is invited to help. Call Dennis Howland at 801-389-1893 or Robert Porter at 801-940-6487 for more information or to let them know you are a Vietnam-era veteran who will be able to take part.