Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Villages Vietnam cease-fire anniversary observance gives war’s vets honor they deserve

Villages Vietnam cease-fire anniversary observance gives war’s vets honor they deserve


THE VILLAGES — Since he left Vietnam 41 years ago, Tom Bray has never felt comfortable attending a Vietnam veterans ceremony.

Until now.

“This is the first time I’ve attended a real service in 41 years,” Bray, a Village of Silver Lake resident, said. “I think that says a lot for The Villages that I felt comfortable enough to come.”

Bray was one of a number of Vietnam veterans who attended Tuesday’s Vietnam Veteran’s Day Ceremony at the Veterans’ Memorial Park of The Villages.

The event commemorated the 36th anniversary of the cease-fire agreement among the United States, North and South Vietnam and the Vietcong that helped put an end to the Vietnam War. And most importantly, it allowed local Vietnam vets to receive the welcome home they never had.

“I remember being totally crushed coming back,” retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Stanley O’Loughlin said. “I was proud of what I had done … but I remember being told as soon as we got off the airplane we had to change into civilian clothes before we got on the bus.”

Although Vietnam veterans received less than a hero’s welcome when they returned from their tour of duty, O’Loughlin said there were lessons to be learned from the time the U.S. spent in Vietnam.

Lessons he hopes America does not repeat.

“I’m going to share with you three lessons we have to be sure our country learned from this experience,” he told the gathering.

According to the 23-year Army veteran, those lessons are: not equating politics with American GIs by supporting soldiers no matter your political beliefs; not punishing soldiers by holding back funding that could potentially save their lives; and making sure veterans are taken care of when they return home.

O’Loughlin challenged the crowd, veterans and nonveterans alike, to make sure their voices are heard when it comes to taking care of soldiers of yesterday, today and the future.

“We are proud to be veterans, and we will support our country any way we can and support our fellow brothers and sisters,” he said.

In addition to O’Loughlin’s inspirational words, local Vietnam veterans also had the opportunity to introduce themselves to the crowd and to hear from their fellow soldiers who fought in a war that remains fresh in most veterans’ minds.

“I’m proud to have been there,” Bill Thornton, who served in 1968-69 said. “God bless America.”

“I thank God I’m alive and I’m here,” said Navy veteran Ray Pavelec who served in Vietnam in 1967-68.

“This is in memory of Sgt. David Paul Nash,” Vietnam veteran Dave Johnson told the crowd. “It was early Dec. 29, 1968 … he threw himself on a grenade, sacrificing his own life to protect (two others). He will always be my hero.”

Even though they may have never heard the welcome-home they deserved to hear decades ago, Vietnam veterans in attendance agreed that even after all these years, it feels good to receive recognition for doing their part in keeping America the land of the free and the home of the brave.

“(This event) makes me even more proud to be a Vietnam veteran,” Villager Frankie Lamberti said.

Bray said he doesn’t regret his decision to finally publicly participate in a service that honors him and his fellow soldiers.

“I enjoyed every bit of it,” he said.

April Toler is a reporter with the Daily Sun. She can be reached at 753-1119, ext. 9013, or

Villages Vietnam cease-fire anniversary observance gives war’s vets honor they deserve

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