Mike Marshall was grateful for the hero's homecoming given his paratrooper son. The unabashed outpouring of adulation was something he was denied when he came home from Vietnam a generation ago.

"I just wanted a pat on the back and a thank you. And we didn't get that," said Marshall, who traveled from Blanchard, Okla., to greet returning soldiers of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division."All we had was people heaving oranges and tomatoes and stuff at us," Marshall said. "I'll never forget that as long as I live."

What was thrown for his son, Spec. 4 Ronnie Marshall, 22, and other returning paratroopers was a patriotic party. The community around their home base of Fort Bragg was a sea of U.S. flags, yellow ribbons and 3,000 yelping, placard-waving people welcoming home soldiers from the Persian Gulf on Friday.

One giant banner read simply "Welcome Home - Job Well Done." On a tarmac of Pope Air Force Base, families cried, laughed and embraced during emotional reunions in the afternoon chill.

Marshall's son served with the 4th Battalion of the 325th Parachute Infantry Regiment, the first ground troops sent to Saudi Arabia seven months ago and the first U.S. unit to enter Iraq during the ground war.

"I think this reception will be something that he'll remember all his life. And it'll be something I'll always remember," said Marshall, a 1968 veteran of two tours in Vietnam.

"I don't think I've ever seen anything like it. I think this will put in their minds that America is behind them. If I had something like this, I wouldn't have the sour taste in my mouth that I do today," he said.

"I expected everybody to just give me a big hug and say thank you. I thought you'd come back and work in society, and people would kind of look up to you," Marshall said.

"I didn't have a town parade or anything. You just kind of drifted back into society," he said. "I never really did get a greeting or a handshake or anything like that. I think the American people just wanted to forget it."

All the hoopla was a bit bewildering for triumphant troops. From the moment they left Saudi Arabia, they were cheered by flight attendants wearing yellow ribbons and miniature flags on their uniforms.

Now they'll be honored at parades and ceremonies, such as the reception one planeload of paratroopers got when they stopped in New York City for refueling en route home.

"I wish the Vietnam vets would have gotten a reception like this," said Pfc. Todd Meyer, 21, of Huntington Beach, Calif. Meyer's father served in the Air Force in the Vietnam War.

Meanwhile, Sgt. Maj. Charles Terrian, 39, also a Vietnam veteran, cherished the welcoming parties that he never got.

"The American people are making up for it now," said Terrian of Fayetteville. "To me, it's healed a lot of wounds. Let's bury Vietnam forever."