Fourth of July event to honor Vietnam War veterans

GVL / Courtesy - Janessa Smit 
Students in allendale schools create signs to be distributed and held at the parade on the 4th of July to honor the veterans and welcome them home.

GVL / Courtesy – Janessa Smit Students in allendale schools create signs to be distributed and held at the parade on the 4th of July to honor the veterans and ‘welcome them home.’

Tylee Bush

Each year, Allendale Charter Township holds a Fourth of July celebration, and this year, it is going to honor and celebrate a specific group of people.

“The vision is quite simple,” said Greg DeJong, the chairman of the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners. “Instead of having a grand marshal for our Allendale Fourth of July parade, we have electively decided to have a welcome home to our Vietnam veterans this year. During their time period, they never got welcomed home.”

DeJong pioneered the change to the annual event.

“Personally, I know some Vietnam veterans who, when they came home, they were disgraced, they were spit on, they were cussed at, they couldn’t even get out of the airport without changing out of their military clothes,” DeJong said. “It was a different time in our nation’s history and a different war.”

Today, most veterans are welcomed home with open arms, but for the veterans of the Vietnam War, this was not the case.

“You can turn the TV on and see our current military men and women coming home from service, from across the country or across the world; all of our men and women serving get welcomed home by somebody except this one particular group,” DeJong said. “I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be nice if we pulled the community together to welcome these folks home?”

Adam Elenbaas, supervisor of Allendale Charter Township, said the organizers have been raising awareness for the event and inviting veterans to be a part of the parade.

“We have been reaching out to several organizations to personally invite these veterans to come out for our parade,” Elenbaas said.

One of these organizations is the Rolling Thunder and Patriot Guard Motorcycle Brigade. This group focuses on the prisoners of war, those missing in action and the people who don’t come home. Elenbaas and DeJong visited their local chapter to personally invite the veterans in this group to the event, and Elenbaas said they received a surprising reaction.

“When you walked into the room, it’s kind of your stereotypical Vietnam biker group, but many of these men and women are Vietnam veterans,” Elenbaas said, “We got done discussing the vision that we have for this parade and extending the invitation to be our guests of honor and be welcomed home, and we saw these grizzly bikers break down into tears and give us hugs.

Totally out of character for what you would normally expect. Just kind of gives you a feel for the impact that we’re having on these people even before the parade.”

Students in Allendale Public Schools have been crafting signs that say, “Thank you,” “Welcome home” and “God Bless.” These signs will be distributed at the parade route along with 3,000 American flags for attendees to hold. Attendees are also highly encouraged to bring signs and flags of their own out of respect for the veterans.

“We want them when they come out to Grand Valley’s parade route on the Fourth of July morning and walk down that three-quarter-of-a-mile corridor just packed full of people waving the American flags, having hand-made signs with the (applause), the appreciation and the welcome home that is a stark contrast from what they got when they came home ten years ago,” Elenbaas said.

In addition to the parade, festivities will be happening all throughout the day. Janessa Smit, executive director of the Allendale Chamber of Commerce, said the day will start with a pancake breakfast at 7:30 a.m. at the Allendale Township Hall for $6 a plate. Next, the parade will begin at 10 a.m. on the Grand Valley State University Allendale Campus.

Following the parade will be family-friendly fun in the Allendale Township Park from noon to 4 p.m. This free event will include inflatables, pony rides, a petting zoo, a classic car show, an arts-and-crafts fair, ninja warrior courses, an airplane flyover and an ice cream social sponsored by the Allendale Historical Society.

In addition, a chicken barbecue fundraiser will be held at the park for $8 with all funds supporting the Allendale Fire Department.

From 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., there will be live entertainment in the bandshell for people to stick around, have dinner and socialize until the fireworks show. The fireworks, sponsored by Countryside Greenhouse, will start at dusk (roughly 10 p.m.). More information on the event and parade route can be found at

“Independence Day is a holiday that we all celebrate but we kind of lose the meaning of,” Elenbaas said. “When you think about the barbecues and the fireworks, this is a great opportunity to highlight one of the reasons we celebrate this holiday and to honor those men and women and thank them for what they did, especially with being so long overdue.”

The intention of this event, this year especially, is to thank those who have served the United States. DeJong encourages people to attend the event, have fun and pay their respects.

“It’s an opportunity to come out and thank those who served our country who never got thanked before, a chance for the community to give back to the veterans something that they never got and that they desperately want,” he said.