Chamber dinner to thank Vietnam veterans

VETS TO BE HONORED — Tony Paesano, president of the Follansbee Chamber of Commerce, and Debbie Puskarich, chamber executive director, look at one of the pins to be presented to Brooke County veterans of the Vietnam War at a dinner to be held in their honor on Aug. 15 at Vito’s 2. -- Warren Scott

FOLLANSBEE — The U.S. Department of Defense has enlisted hometown organizations throughout the U.S. to aid it in recognizing more than 8.7 million veterans who served abroad and at home during the Vietnam War.

And the Follansbee Chamber of Commerce will join the effort with a spaghetti dinner to be held Aug. 15 at Vito’s 2.

“It’s to say thank you because they were never really thanked,” said Debbie Puskarich, chamber executive director.

Chamber President Tony Paesano said when public opinion of the war turned negative, returning servicemen often unfairly became the targets of that backlash.

Paesano said a veteran told him he was advised, before flying home from the war, to change from his uniform and into street clothes before stepping into the airport so he wouldn’t draw attention to himself.

“They went through a war, they came home, and they often were abused,” he said.

Paesano said the chamber hopes to make up for that in some small way by personally inviting each of Brooke County’s Vietnam War veterans to the dinner.

Paesano and Puskarich said they have compiled some names of Brooke County veterans who served during the Vietnam era, which has been declared by the U.S. Department of Defense as Nov. 1, 1955, (after U.S. military advisers had been sent to Vietnam) to May 15, 1975.

But they want to be sure no veteran is overlooked and are asking those interested in attending to call (304) 527-3657 and leave their name and address so a formal invitation may be sent.

The chamber leaders hope to hear from everyone by Aug. 10.

They want to know how many veterans to expect because they will be presenting a lapel pin issued by the Department of Defense to honor the veterans for their service. On one side of the pin are the words “Vietnam War Veteran” and an image of an American bald eagle before elements of the U.S. flag, including six stars representing the six nations that fought in the war. On the other side of the pin is the statement, “A Grateful Nation Thanks and Honors You.”

The same message will be conveyed through a commemorative flag to be displayed at the dinner.

Issue of the pins is in response to the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act,which empowered the Department of Defense to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the war.

As part of that ongoing commemoration, the department also is issuing certificates of honor specifically for former POWs of the Vietnam era and to spouses and immediate family members of those who died while serving and those who are unaccounted for.

Information about obtaining the certificates can be found at

Puskarich said each attendee will be asked to complete a brief form stating their rank, military branch and any military honors they received.

Jay Teacoach, president of the Jefferson County chapter of the Vietnam Veterans Support Group, is slated to speak during the dinner, which will include pasta, meatballs, salad and a dessert.