The 737th Transportation Company is believed to be the only Army Reserve unit in the state of Washington deployed to Vietnam during the war.

The unit was called into active duty April 26, 1968, and set up camp at Quang Tri on Sept. 30 that year.

The reserve unit from Yakima was responsible for logging about 500,000 miles and hauling some 25,000,000 gallons of fuel across a war-torn Vietnam.

On Saturday at Sarg Hubbard Park, the 737th will be the focus of the annual Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans ceremony. The event begins at 1 p.m. near the veterans memorial at the park at 111 S. 18th St. in Yakima.

Last year the Welcome Home event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year it will be a smaller gathering, said veteran Andy Thompson, one of the organizers.

“It’s not going to be a full-blown event like we normally do,” he said. “We’re going to honor the 737th — those guys, what they did.”

Purpose

The annual event is organized by members of the Yakama Warriors Association, a veterans group based on the Yakama reservation.

Most people know the Vietnam conflict was considered an unpopular war, and veterans didn’t receive a very warm welcome home. Years ago, veterans from previous eras wouldn’t recognize the Vietnam conflict as a war, and often wouldn’t accept Vietnam veterans into veteran clubs.

Attitudes and understandings have dramatically changed over time, and some states including Washington approved laws thanking those veterans for their service and acknowledging Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.

Vietnam veteran Vern Bakker, who served with the 737th, said coming home wasn’t easy.

“We were doing what we were asked to do,” he said. “We all took the same oath.”

Bakker said the acknowledgment that’s been occurring over the past several years is important.

“Just the idea of a welcome and saying thank you for your service — it means a lot to those who served,” Bakker said. “It’s, you know, ‘hey, you guys did a good job ...’ whether you agree with went on or not.”

Event highlights

While this year’s event is expected to be smaller than ones in the past due to the pandemic, there will be some key speakers.

Yakima Mayor Patricia Byers and the current commanders of the 737th and the Yakima Training Center will be on hand.

Byers plans to announce a proclamation by the city recognizing the 737th efforts in the war.

“The Warriors are honoring the 737th Transportation Company and the city is acknowledging that and honoring the transportation company as well,” she said.

Byers said in high school she lived in Lemoore, Calif., near the Lemoore Naval Air Base. Those who flew out of that base served in Vietnam and Byers said her family of her friends served in that conflict.

“I just always had those memories and connections,” she said.

Byers’ father served in the Army during World War II and her stepfather in the Navy during the same war. Her brother served in Desert Storm.

“I support veterans in every capacity that I can,” Byers said.

Reach Phil Ferolito at pferolito@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: @philipferolito