STEVENSVILLE — Kent Island American Legion Post 278 launched its “Welcome Home, Vietnam Veterans” campaign in July. Early this year, the Pentagon announced the next three years would be the official 40th anniversary of the end of the war in Vietnam, and local veterans organizations across the nation are encouraged to honor those who served and those who died in the conflict.
KI Legion Commander Nikki Randolph said, “I was born in 1964 and was only 11 when the Vietnam War ended in 1975. I don’t understand everything about it. I only know what I learned in school. I do know that our Vietnam veterans were not welcomed home with ticker-tape parades, and that some citizens greeted them by calling out ugly and profane names and even spitting on them when they returned. I do know what it is to be a veteran, and we can never make up for what happened to you back then, but we want to honor your service to our nation.”
During the July ceremony, the Legion recognized 25 local men who died while serving in Vietnam. Among those were, from Centreville, Howard Wright, Fred Gates, and Robert Brown; from Chestertown, Raymond Elliott and Clarence Newcomb; from Denton, Andrew Lewis and Robert Burrows; from Easton, Joseph Eason, Thomas Blades and Edward Ayers; from Federalsburg, Gordon Lawrence; from Galena, Robert Davis; from Ridgely, William House; from Wye Mills, Charles Rose; from Trappe, Thurman Winston and Phillip Ireland.
Additionally, Vietnam veterans who were registered members of Post 278 who have died since the war ended were honored: Andrew Bain, Billy Black, Anthony Delnegro, Durwood Durbin, Stanley Jackson, Glen Smith, James Wilmer, Oswald Hunt Jr., Robert Lee, Bernard Tomardy, James Dohme, Ray Kiefer, Don Fry, Jimmy Duffy, Larry Bell, Charles Rose and Bill Richardson.
“Two-thirds of the members of Post 278 are Vietnam veterans, more than 300, and I’m grateful to have them here,” Randolph said.
Veterans Joseph Lee DePasquale, Roger “Curt” Kersey and Richard Randolph assisted with the ceremony.
Vietnam veteran Doug Guare, of Romancoke, said, “We need to especially thank the girlfriends and wives who waited here at home for us while we were away fighting in Vietnam. It’s hard to imagine how they suffered, wondering if we were OK. We owe them a big thank you, too.”
Vietnam veteran Jim Kasper, of Stevensville, said he was impressed with the evening.
“We (veterans) weren’t expecting all the decorations that were put up inside the Legion for us. I really enjoyed being there with the other veterans who served in Vietnam,” he said.
Kasper recalled coming home from Vietnam and people not being very sociable in airports.
“They were kind of stand-offish, like we had done something wrong,” he said. “I personally never experienced some of the real bad behavior some Vietnam vets experienced. Living here on the Eastern Shore, there are no better people anywhere in the world. People here are grateful and respectful toward each other, and I love living here. We (Vietnam veterans) needed this party. It was fun, tender and healing. I’m in awe about it.”
Over the next thee years, the Legion is planning other events to recognize Vietnam veterans, possibly a golf tournament, a fishing tournament and even a parade.