Honoring Vietnam vets focus of event

The focus March 30 will be on veterans of the Vietnam War during a special program planned at the Sandra and Louis Berkman Amphitheater at Historic Fort Steuben, Steubenville.

Organized by AMVETS Post 275 members Dave Atchison, Bill Demjan, Jack Ernest, Matz Malone and Dan Wilson and Jerry Barilla of Historic Fort Steuben, the program will get under way at 11 a.m. with Jack L. Ernest of Richmond, a Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War, as the featured speaker.

In addition to the presentation by Ernest, who was among 15 inducted in November in the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame Class of 2012, other highlights of the event will include a symbolic flag retirement and re-posting, vocal renditions of the national anthem and “God Bless America” and a coffee and cookie reception following at the Fort Steuben Visitors Center.

“The theme for the day is honor and a new beginning from a grateful country for those who served in Vietnam and during the Vietnam Era,” explained Wilson, commander of AMVETS Post 275.

“AMVETS Post 275 welcomes veterans of all eras to attend and help us say thanks and honor the service of our Vietnam veterans,” he said.

March 30 is now acknowledged as Vietnam Veterans Day in Ohio after Gov. John Kasich signed into law during 2012 the day to honor those who fought, died or are still unaccounted for in the Vietnam War.

March 30 represents the first day all U.S. combat troops were out of the country after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1973.

In addition to the Jefferson County observance, there are many activities planned in Columbus, including an appearance by the moving Vietnam Memorial Wall.

“Since so many in our area served in Vietnam, we wanted to make sure we had something locally to honor them for their service to our nation,” Wilson said.

“My perspective as a Southwest Asia, Bosnia conflicts and Post 911 veteran and arguably any veteran that served after the Vietnam war, we owe this group of veterans an enormous thank-you,” he said. “These veterans fought and sacrificed in a very unpopular war only to come home and fight for the benefits they earned while serving that was due to their service. That is pretty well documented,” he continued.

“As a group, they took their experience and collectively ensured what happened to them would never happen to any future generation of veterans. Recall the first Gulf War and remember the welcome home parades – they made sure we knew our nation appreciated our service from day one,” Wilson said. “Lesser known, when Gulf War illness started appearing, Vietnam vets and those of other eras fought tirelessly to make sure affected veterans were taken care of in ways they were not. When you look at the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, you’ll again see Vietnam vets and others, of course, making sure vets of those wars are being treated for PTSD, TBI, illnesses caused by the ‘burn pits’ and countless other things that haven’t surfaced yet in those conflicts. I will always think of this group as men and women who just kept serving,” Wilson said.

“Now, after all these years, there has been a day designated to honor those vets. Hopefully this is the beginning of a new day – spring time – where we can show our support and gratitude for this generation. They did what was asked and have continued to fight the good fight for all these years,” Wilson said.