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Vietnam veterans honored at first Welcome Home ceremony

  • From left, Cathy and Bob Brown, of Belmont, cover their hearts as Paul Martin, right, of Lyndeborough, salutes while Taps is played during the closing of the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day ceremony at the New Hampshire Army Guard Aviation Flight Facility in Concord on Saturday afternoon, March 30, 2013. The ceremony marked the first time in which the state officially held a homecoming ceremony for veterans of the Vietnam War. Martin, a Vietnam veteran, served from 1969-1971 in the 4th Infantry of the 101st Airborne of the U.S. Army. Cathy and Bob Brown were in attendance and are members of Rolling Thunder. Cathy lost her first fiancŽ in Vietnam.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    From left, Cathy and Bob Brown, of Belmont, cover their hearts as Paul Martin, right, of Lyndeborough, salutes while Taps is played during the closing of the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day ceremony at the New Hampshire Army Guard Aviation Flight Facility in Concord on Saturday afternoon, March 30, 2013. The ceremony marked the first time in which the state officially held a homecoming ceremony for veterans of the Vietnam War. Martin, a Vietnam veteran, served from 1969-1971 in the 4th Infantry of the 101st Airborne of the U.S. Army. Cathy and Bob Brown were in attendance and are members of Rolling Thunder. Cathy lost her first fiancŽ in Vietnam.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Derek Wyskiel, center, of Exeter, holds a framed photograph of his father, Fred Wyskiel, who passed away in 1998. Fred served in the Vietnam War and was in the 197th Army National Guard out of Manchester. Laura Wyskiel, Derek's wife, hugs Derek's mother and Fred's wife, Sherry Wyskiel, of Hollis, following the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day ceremony. Jeremy Wyskiel, Fred's son and a Coast Guard Reservist from Vermont, and his girlfriend, Bianca Rousseau, far left, were also in attendance. <br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Derek Wyskiel, center, of Exeter, holds a framed photograph of his father, Fred Wyskiel, who passed away in 1998. Fred served in the Vietnam War and was in the 197th Army National Guard out of Manchester. Laura Wyskiel, Derek's wife, hugs Derek's mother and Fred's wife, Sherry Wyskiel, of Hollis, following the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day ceremony. Jeremy Wyskiel, Fred's son and a Coast Guard Reservist from Vermont, and his girlfriend, Bianca Rousseau, far left, were also in attendance.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Rayman 'Joker' Colby and Mark 'Spiritbear' DiCampo, embrace while greeting each other during the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day ceremony, in which the state officially held the first homecoming ceremony for veterans of the Vietnam War. Colby is the president of the Nam Knights of America Motorcycle Club seacoast chapter and served in the U.S. Army from 1970-1973. DiCampo served in the U.S. Army and National Guard from 1964-1983 and was in Vietnam from 1971 to 1973.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Rayman 'Joker' Colby and Mark 'Spiritbear' DiCampo, embrace while greeting each other during the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day ceremony, in which the state officially held the first homecoming ceremony for veterans of the Vietnam War. Colby is the president of the Nam Knights of America Motorcycle Club seacoast chapter and served in the U.S. Army from 1970-1973. DiCampo served in the U.S. Army and National Guard from 1964-1983 and was in Vietnam from 1971 to 1973.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • David Moorhead, of Plymouth, fought in the Tet Offensive at the Battle of Hue in 1968 with the U.S. Army 2d Battalion, 12th Cavalry. Moorhead said he served in the Army for 1 year, 8 months and in combat for 2 months, 6 days before being shot by 8 bullets below the waist, 6 shrapnel wounds, and white phosphorus burns to a leg. His grandson, Aden Scribner, 9, rode on the back of Moorhead's motorized chair. <br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    David Moorhead, of Plymouth, fought in the Tet Offensive at the Battle of Hue in 1968 with the U.S. Army 2d Battalion, 12th Cavalry. Moorhead said he served in the Army for 1 year, 8 months and in combat for 2 months, 6 days before being shot by 8 bullets below the waist, 6 shrapnel wounds, and white phosphorus burns to a leg. His grandson, Aden Scribner, 9, rode on the back of Moorhead's motorized chair.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Veterans wave their hats following speeches during the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day ceremony, in which the state officially held the first homecoming ceremony for veterans of the Vietnam War, held at the New Hampshire Army Guard Aviation Flight Facility in Concord on Saturday afternoon, March 30, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Veterans wave their hats following speeches during the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day ceremony, in which the state officially held the first homecoming ceremony for veterans of the Vietnam War, held at the New Hampshire Army Guard Aviation Flight Facility in Concord on Saturday afternoon, March 30, 2013.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Gillian Bennett, 14, of Concord, picks up her cousin Eva Johnson, 21 months, outside the New Hampshire Army Guard Aviation Flight Facility during the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day ceremony. Their grandfather, John Johnson, of Tuftonboro, served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam. In January, 1969, he was shot in both legs and a hand and was hospitalized for 11 months. He married one week after being released from the hospital.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Gillian Bennett, 14, of Concord, picks up her cousin Eva Johnson, 21 months, outside the New Hampshire Army Guard Aviation Flight Facility during the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day ceremony. Their grandfather, John Johnson, of Tuftonboro, served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam. In January, 1969, he was shot in both legs and a hand and was hospitalized for 11 months. He married one week after being released from the hospital.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day, in which the state officially held the first homecoming ceremony for veterans of the Vietnam War, was held at the New Hampshire Army Guard Aviation Flight Facility in Concord on Saturday afternoon, March 30, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day, in which the state officially held the first homecoming ceremony for veterans of the Vietnam War, was held at the New Hampshire Army Guard Aviation Flight Facility in Concord on Saturday afternoon, March 30, 2013.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day, in which the state officially held the first homecoming ceremony for veterans of the Vietnam War, was held at the New Hampshire Army Guard Aviation Flight Facility in Concord on Saturday afternoon, March 30, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day, in which the state officially held the first homecoming ceremony for veterans of the Vietnam War, was held at the New Hampshire Army Guard Aviation Flight Facility in Concord on Saturday afternoon, March 30, 2013.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day, in which the state officially held the first homecoming ceremony for veterans of the Vietnam War, was held at the New Hampshire Army Guard Aviation Flight Facility in Concord on Saturday afternoon, March 30, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day, in which the state officially held the first homecoming ceremony for veterans of the Vietnam War, was held at the New Hampshire Army Guard Aviation Flight Facility in Concord on Saturday afternoon, March 30, 2013.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day, in which the state officially held the first homecoming ceremony for veterans of the Vietnam War, was held at the New Hampshire Army Guard Aviation Flight Facility in Concord on Saturday afternoon, March 30, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day, in which the state officially held the first homecoming ceremony for veterans of the Vietnam War, was held at the New Hampshire Army Guard Aviation Flight Facility in Concord on Saturday afternoon, March 30, 2013.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • From left, Cathy and Bob Brown, of Belmont, cover their hearts as Paul Martin, right, of Lyndeborough, salutes while Taps is played during the closing of the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day ceremony at the New Hampshire Army Guard Aviation Flight Facility in Concord on Saturday afternoon, March 30, 2013. The ceremony marked the first time in which the state officially held a homecoming ceremony for veterans of the Vietnam War. Martin, a Vietnam veteran, served from 1969-1971 in the 4th Infantry of the 101st Airborne of the U.S. Army. Cathy and Bob Brown were in attendance and are members of Rolling Thunder. Cathy lost her first fiancŽ in Vietnam.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Derek Wyskiel, center, of Exeter, holds a framed photograph of his father, Fred Wyskiel, who passed away in 1998. Fred served in the Vietnam War and was in the 197th Army National Guard out of Manchester. Laura Wyskiel, Derek's wife, hugs Derek's mother and Fred's wife, Sherry Wyskiel, of Hollis, following the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day ceremony. Jeremy Wyskiel, Fred's son and a Coast Guard Reservist from Vermont, and his girlfriend, Bianca Rousseau, far left, were also in attendance. <br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Rayman 'Joker' Colby and Mark 'Spiritbear' DiCampo, embrace while greeting each other during the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day ceremony, in which the state officially held the first homecoming ceremony for veterans of the Vietnam War. Colby is the president of the Nam Knights of America Motorcycle Club seacoast chapter and served in the U.S. Army from 1970-1973. DiCampo served in the U.S. Army and National Guard from 1964-1983 and was in Vietnam from 1971 to 1973.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • David Moorhead, of Plymouth, fought in the Tet Offensive at the Battle of Hue in 1968 with the U.S. Army 2d Battalion, 12th Cavalry. Moorhead said he served in the Army for 1 year, 8 months and in combat for 2 months, 6 days before being shot by 8 bullets below the waist, 6 shrapnel wounds, and white phosphorus burns to a leg. His grandson, Aden Scribner, 9, rode on the back of Moorhead's motorized chair. <br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Veterans wave their hats following speeches during the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day ceremony, in which the state officially held the first homecoming ceremony for veterans of the Vietnam War, held at the New Hampshire Army Guard Aviation Flight Facility in Concord on Saturday afternoon, March 30, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Gillian Bennett, 14, of Concord, picks up her cousin Eva Johnson, 21 months, outside the New Hampshire Army Guard Aviation Flight Facility during the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day ceremony. Their grandfather, John Johnson, of Tuftonboro, served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam. In January, 1969, he was shot in both legs and a hand and was hospitalized for 11 months. He married one week after being released from the hospital.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day, in which the state officially held the first homecoming ceremony for veterans of the Vietnam War, was held at the New Hampshire Army Guard Aviation Flight Facility in Concord on Saturday afternoon, March 30, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day, in which the state officially held the first homecoming ceremony for veterans of the Vietnam War, was held at the New Hampshire Army Guard Aviation Flight Facility in Concord on Saturday afternoon, March 30, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day, in which the state officially held the first homecoming ceremony for veterans of the Vietnam War, was held at the New Hampshire Army Guard Aviation Flight Facility in Concord on Saturday afternoon, March 30, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day, in which the state officially held the first homecoming ceremony for veterans of the Vietnam War, was held at the New Hampshire Army Guard Aviation Flight Facility in Concord on Saturday afternoon, March 30, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

Until yesterday, Richard McIntire had never worn his military ribbons in public. He’d never walked around with the dog tags from his Army days around his neck. He’d never really started the healing process of a painful 18 months spent in Vietnam as an Army sergeant for the 6th Battalion, 11th Artillery.

But as he stood alongside hundreds of his fellow Vietnam War veterans at the New Hampshire National Guard’s hangar at the Concord airport, he wore both proudly. He wore them because yesterday, four decades after their boots touched the ground back in America, New Hampshire’s Vietnam veterans were officially welcomed home for the very first time.

“This’ll start a process for me to shed some pain, maybe get rid of it,” said McIntire, 69, of Contoocook, as tears welled in his eyes. “This is quite an event for me.”

This year marks the first official celebration of Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day, which the state Legislature designated as March 30 last year. More than 1,000 people gathered at the hangar to hear messages from Maj. Gen. William Reddell III, adjutant general of the New Hampshire National Guard, Gov. Maggie Hassan, the state’s congressional delegation and fellow Vietnam veterans. One of the most poignant and simple statements came from former state senator Gary Lambert, the bill’s sponsor to create the day: “It’s about time.” Lambert is also a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.

The speeches, as well as comments from veterans after the ceremony, all sounded similar notes: The sacrifice and service of Vietnam veterans should be praised; the nation failed greatly in its duty to honor and thank those who served; and never again should a generation of veterans be treated so poorly.

Amid the public debate that played out as the nation watched young men sent off to war, “those who were serving became political collateral damage,” said U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, adding that Vietnam veterans should be honored and thanked wherever they go.

John Blais, 66, of Manchester, remembers what it was like coming home. Most soldiers got off the plane and immediately went to the bathroom to change out of their uniforms because they were afraid of the reception they’d receive. The pain from those moments is still very present for many Vietnam veterans.

“That’s pretty sad when you fight in Vietnam and come home and your own people don’t honor you,” he said.

Blais served in the New Hampshire National Guard’s 3rd Battalion of the 197th Field Artillery, which was deployed from 1968 to 1969. He lost six of friends, who he’d known long before the war, less than a week before the unit came home. He has post-traumatic stress disorder, and an unwelcoming environment at home made it hard for him and many others to cope.

“We remember what happened when we came home,” he said.

Vietnam veteran John O’Brien, who has been an advocate for achieving recognition of Vietnam veterans, spoke during the ceremony. He was injured twice and should have received two Purple Hearts. One was sent to him in the mail. He didn’t receive the other until a special ceremony in 2011. Receiving a medal in the mail added insult to injury from the way Vietnam veterans were treated, he said.

But he raised his hat to the crowd and reminded his fellow veterans that they will always share a bond.

“We Vietnam veterans stand together and will be forever proud,” he said to loud cheers as veterans in the audience raised and waved their hats.

Veterans from the Vietnam era who served elsewhere were also honored. Jorg Dreusicke, of Pelham, served in Korea’s Demilitarized Zone for two years. The backlash against the Vietnam War spread out to everyone who served in the military during that time, and he appreciated that the ceremony thanked and recognized other Vietnam-era veterans.

“All the guys that came home at that time were treated the same way,” he said.

Along with thanking the Vietnam veterans for their service, the speakers also praised them for their commitment to making sure every generation of soldiers after them, especially those fighting in unpopular wars, will always be given a well-deserved homecoming. One of the more powerful moments of the event came when fellow veteran Bob Jones, vice president of the Northeast POW/MIA Network, spoke about the need for the government to do whatever it can to bring home current American prisoners of war.

“When one American is not worth the effort, then we as Americans have lost,” he said.

Although yesterday’s ceremony caused many veterans to reflect on painful memories, it was also a day of celebration and pride.

“It’s almost beyond words, the camaraderie I’ve seen today,” said Gil Mastera, who served in the Marines and received a Purple Heart after being shot in his right shoulder during Vietnam. “It was just so touching for me.”

Mastera said he doesn’t dwell on the past. He remembers taking a 50-mile cab ride from the Chelsea Naval Hospital to his home in New Bedford when his injury was healed, and getting out to walk the last mile to his home. He was so happy to be home that he kissed the ground, and he has since worked on moving forward. Still, he is grateful for the recognition he and his fellow veterans will now receive.

“This is gonna be our day,” he said with a smile.

For veterans in the crowd like Mastera, the healing of wounds from Vietnam began years ago. For some, like McIntire, the process of healing a still-raw pain has just begun. For many others, it hasn’t started at all.

Maj. Gen. Reddell ended the ceremony with a call to action for those in attendance to reach out to veterans who didn’t come to the ceremony.

“I need you to reach out and tell them that it’s okay. I need you to tell them we are proud of their service,” he said. “And most of all, I need you to tell them welcome home.”

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or
kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

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