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“All gave some, and some gave all” : Community remembers Vietnam veterans’ sacrifices
Vietnam Veterans 2022-1
Army veteran and Chapter 970 chaplain Matt Pesce speaks about his military service and the struggles he and others faced during and after their time in Vietnam. - photo by Julia Hansen

Reading from a heartfelt script, Don Brown reminded an audience of veterans, their loved ones and other community members that “it’s up to us not to forget those who gave some and those who gave all.”

The Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 970 held a ceremony to commemorate National 

Vietnam War Veterans Day on March 29 at Dawson County’s  Veterans Memorial Park. 

Just a few years ago, at the end of 2017, then-U.S. President Donald Trump signed a law that made an official national holiday to honor Vietnam veterans on March 29. That date marks the last day of combat troops in the southeast Asian country in 1973. 

Chapter 970 president Bill Martin, a U.S. Air Force veteran, helped set the tone for the event by recalling how the Vietnam War, unlike America’s previous major conflicts, did not receive a positive reception in the United States. 

However, he said that circumstances generally allowed service members from all five branches to form “a brotherhood that can never be replaced.”

“They’ve got our backs, and we’ve got theirs,” Martin said of those from the other branches. 

Don Brown, an Army veteran, elaborated on Martin’s sentiments by reading the former’s words. Brown mentioned that returning Vietnam veterans were often disrespected or even regarded as villains.

“When they came home there was no welcome, only protests against participation in the war. Our own fellow veterans from World War II and Korea threw us under the bus. Many didn't want us as members of their veterans organizations.”

The words “welcome home” were not heard outside of families, nor was the phrase “thank you” from strangers. 

“Today is to honor us in the way [we] should have been honored then,” Brown said.

He explained that some people in the country have wondered why veterans from the Vietnam era complain, and in doing so, they miss the point. 

“It’s not what other folks think but it’s about us…[it’s about] remembering and not forgetting until the last of us is gone.” 

Matt Pesce, the group’s chaplain and veteran of the army’s 101st airborne division, delivered the keynote speech during the ceremony. 

As he spoke in front of the memorial park’s monument of a helmet-and-rifle statue, he 

recalled his battalion would hold monthly services for the fallen soldiers, often setting up a helmet on top of a rifle to honor them. 

A chaplain would pray, and the battalion commander would slowly read the names of dead soldiers. One could tell what platoon the fallen were from by where the crying came from in the assembly, Pesce said. 

After such a service, it wasn’t uncommon for him and others to load onto a chopper for their next assault, with “blood in their eyes.” 

He also shared a poem about his experience as a soldier during that time. 

Before enlisting, he and others viewed the 1960s as a time of change. Racism was being challenged, and women were likewise challenging the status quo. 

“Nobody knew much about war,” Pesce said. “I wrote the first check to my country at 18 years old, for an amount that no one could estimate-up to and including my life.” 

After training, he wished goodbye to his family members, who had mixed reactions about his participation in the conflict. In return for his service, the government promised Pesce $78 a month. But, like with many other service members, the conflict was often more than what he bargained for. 

During military encounters, he had to navigate being parched, drenched in sweat or eating with one hand and holding his rifle with the other. He described narrowly fleeing jets dropping incendiary napalm and the “incredible level of insanity” behind “losing half of our men and walking away” like “they didn’t matter.”

He wondered why he and his comrades were even there. 

“I, we, had a vision, but it was painfully wrong. We weren’t fighting for our country. We weren’t fighting for freedom. We were fighting not to die.”

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Chapter members solute as “Taps” is played during the Vietnam Veterans Day ceremony. - photo by Julia Hansen

Pesce reminded the audience of more than 58,000 who died in service and “never got to live the American dream.” Another 500,000 were injured, with 100,000 losing pieces of their bodies and a million “losing their souls to the invisible wound, PTSD.” 

In Pesce’s case, his war ended with a year in the hospital with bullet wounds.

He chronicled his own struggle to fit in after getting home, stating that if he wasn’t also a Korea 

combat veteran, probably would’ve taken even longer to find a job than three-and-a-half months. 

Thirty years later, the Department of Veteran Affairs acknowledged the two most prolific killers of the war, PTSD and Agent Orange. 

Pesce has also advocated for efforts to get homeless veterans off the streets, a problem he called a “national shame.”

“We need to do something about that, because they don't deserve to die ragged and poor on the streets,” he said. 

He ended with a prayer. As part of those words, he gave thanks for “those today serving our country, wherever they are.”

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Army veteran and Chapter 970 Public Affairs Officer Don Brown rings a bell to remember each of the county’s Vietnam veterans who have since died. - photo by Julia Hansen

After Pesce’s speech, Brown continued the Navy’s tradition of ringing a bell for passed Vietnam service members after their names were read. 

Those late members include:

  • Randall Densmore, Army

  • T.G. Gunny Moore, Marines

  • Alan C. Wade, Air Force

  • Sherman “Tank” Heaton, Air Force

  • Arthur “Art” Dover, Air Force

  • William J. Misko, Army

  • Rick Fehernbach, Army

  • William “Bill” Repella, Army

  • John V. Bryant, Marines

  • Michael McCue, Army

  • Bill Brown, Army

  • Wayne Watkins, Army

  • Larry Harris, Navy and Army

  • Tom Gurnsey, Air Force

  • Dale Cheney, Air Force

  • Jim McQuirt, Air Force

  • Marvin E. York, Army

  • Victor Wallace, Marines

  • Thomas Begush, Army

He later rang the bell eight times to signify those men’s watch was over and all was well. 

Veterans from the Vietnam War and more recent conflicts attended the ceremony. 

Thatcher Helton with the PTSD Foundation of America came to the occasion to show support. He is also a seven-year army veteran from the war in Afghanistan.

“They showed us a lot of support,” he said, looking at Bill Martin, “because they gave us the ‘welcome home’ that they didn’t get.”

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The yellow “Vietnam Veterans of America” flag poignantly flies behind the Veterans Memorial Park statue, which reads “To honor and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice.” - photo by Julia Hansen