Vietnam veterans honored at fort

STEUBENVILLE – While many veterans of the Vietnam War have spoken of receiving a lukewarm welcome when they returned from battle, local officials and residents tried hard to make up for that Saturday with a special service held specifically in their honor.

Dan Wilson, commander of AMVETS Post 275, told those attending the Vietnam Veterans Day service at Historic Fort Steuben’s Louis Berkman Amphitheater he has learned three things from Vietnam veterans.

One was to let your actions speak for you, he said. Wilson recalled the parades and gatherings of civilians that met veterans of the Gulf War when they returned home and said Vietnam veterans were a large part of that.

“Vietnam veterans didn’t receive that kind of welcome home, but their actions proved they would never let another group of veterans be forgotten again,” he said.

Another was for all veterans to tell their stories and document them so others can learn.

“This group has been givers throughout their experience. Their tenacity in assisting their fellow veterans with exposure to Agent Orange and a myriad of conditions caused by their service has helped our generation deal with and document Gulf War illness, the hazards of burn pits and more recently, illnesses that appear to be caused by long exposure to the desert environment in the Middle East.”

And the third is to be there for fellow veterans. Wilson noted less than 2 percent of Americans have served in the military, distinguishing them for their character. Since returning home, they have reached out to help others in their home towns.

Wilson asked about 30 Vietnam veterans attending the service to stand and identify themselves, and each received applause from those attending.

Schelley Brooks, director of the Jefferson County Veterans Service Commission, read a poem by Maj. Michael O’Donnell, who urged living Vietnam veterans to remember those who didn’t survive.

Among its advice is to “Take what they have left and what they have taught you with their dying and keep it with your own. And in that time when men decide and feel safe to call the war insane, take one moment to embrace those gentle heroes you left behind.”

O’Donnell himself did not return from the war. He was declared missing in action while piloting a helicopter over Cambodia on March 24, 1970. His remains were later recovered and interred at Arlington National Cemetery in 2001.

Mayor Domenick Mucci said too often we forget our troops’ service after they have returned home, and we should not let that happen with Vietnam veterans or any others.

Wilson noted Ohio is one of 35 states that recognizes Vietnam Veterans Day, which is fitting because 300,000 Ohioans served in the war.

The date, March 29, was chosen because it was the first day all U.S. combat troops were out of Vietnam following the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1973.

Also participating in the service were: Mike Bongart, Matz Malone, Jack Ernest, Madison Porec, a 9-year-old from Weirton who performed the national anthem and “America the Beautiful; and the Tri-State Young Marines, who raised the U.S. flag.