Vietnam vets get their due

Vietnam vet Rudolph Thomas sheds a tear as he remembers those who were killed in action.
Photo by Steve Solomonson

Ridgites, elected officials, and army personnel gathered at Ft. Hamilton Army Base on March 23 to pay tribute to the men and women who defended our country during the Vietnam War with a special ceremony for the third annual Vietnam Veterans’ Day.

Veterans gathered at the fort in Bay Ridge and listened to speeches and a performance from the world-famous a cappella group, The Persuasions. A plaque was also presented to keynote speaker Col. Forest Newtown. In it’s third year, the event is a favorite for all, including veteran Michael Palo of Staten Island.

“I attend every year, this is a highlight for me. I feel great that they are finally recognizing us vets. We were treated like trash and the country turned their backs on us when we returned” said Palo, who served from Dec. 1967 to Dec. 1968 and currently works with the Rolling Thunder Chapter One, organizing benefit rides and fund-raisers.

Fellow vet Rudolph Thomas immigrated to this country from Trinidad when he was 16 years old and, in 1965, was drafted, serving as an infantryman until 1971. He was wounded three times and is a recipient of the Purple Heart.

“It’s very touching, and very hard to explain,” he said about the ceremony, trying to choke back his emotions. “I’m very glad that the country is now recognizing us after all this time. I worked as a disabled vets counselor for the state for the past 30 years and now I try to keep abreast about veterans through my involvement in the Rolling Thunder organization. I don’t have a bike but I’m planning on going to Washington in May. One way or another I’m going to be there.”

During the Vietnam War, the country was divided as many protested the country’s involvement in the war. For the men and women who served in Vietnam, it was their duty, and they courageously did whatever was asked of them. For many of them, recognition and acknowledgement of their sacrifice was non-existent, and their welcome home was all but forgotten. There were no parades, no ceremonies, not even a thank you from the government that they defended.

More than 40 years later, they are finally receiving the recognition that they so rightfully deserve. In June 2009, Representative Linda Sanchez (D–CA) led the House Resolution to unanimously pass the proclamation that March 30 would be named “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans’ Day.” Though not yet a national celebration, New York has joined with California, Connecticut, Delaware, Minnesota, and Wisconsin in welcoming Vietnam veterans home.

More from Around New York