It wasn't exactly picture perfect weather as the flight pulled into Gate 71A during a heavy downpour at San Francisco International. But the gate greeting they got made up for it as members of the 101st Airborne from Kentucky were greeted by civic leaders, USO volunteers and United Airlines employees. A large balloon arch rose over the gate door, and a bagpiper played "The Army Goes Rolling Along." Several airport police officers and their canines were also on hand.
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The City of San Mateo adopted the 101st 50 years ago at the urging of former resident Linda Patterson, whose brother was in the unit, serving in Vietnam. Two weeks later, her brother was killed in action. It led to school children writing letters to soldiers and sending them care packages. Linda went to Vietnam where the 101st appreciated the outreach at a time when the war was unpopular.
"They pulled pictures out of their pockets, showing me the families that were writing, kids," said Mrs. Patterson. "They wanted so much to know about a city in California that was supporting them. They were from all over the country."
A half-century later, the 101st, Alpha Company, 1st Batallion, 327th Infantry is still San Mateo's adopted unit. Five of the contingent of 50 here for three days of events are Bay Area natives.
Specialist Bradley Girard from Redwood City was touched by care packages sent to him overseas.
"When we were deployed overseas," he said, "we got a lot of packages from San Mateo County... high schools, middle schools, elementary schools, police departments and what not. And it was really awesome to get."
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Eight Peninsula cities have joined San Mateo in adopting other units of the 101st Airborne in recent years.
The soldiers didn't pack light. They brought fatigues, dress uniforms and casual clothes for planned events, including a recognition dinner and a parade..
"Parades are my weak point. I can't march," confessed Specialist Ryan Karim from San Jose.
Come watch the 101st march on Saturday morning to see if SPC Karam is telling the truth or pulling our leg. Forty Vietnam veterans will be joining them along B Street from Baldwin Ave. to Seventh Ave. starting at 11 a.m., rain or shine. There will be dozens of other units marching from various community, youth and public safety organizations.
Click here for a look at more stories on the Vietnam War.