NAUGATUCK — When Vietnam War veterans returned home, they weren’t greeted the same as veterans from previous wars.
“Vietnam veterans are the first group that came home that weren’t celebrated. They were actually disrespected. They didn’t dare wear their uniforms. They were attacked, they were spit on,” said American Legion Post 17 Commander Ron Fischer, a U.S. Navy veteran who served from 1960 to 1967.
On Oct. 30, Post 17 presented Vietnam War Commemoration pins to 30 veterans who served during the war. The ceremony was important not for the small, gold pin itself, but for the long overdue recognition it brought the veterans.
The pins are part of The United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration, an organization formed to recognize the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. According to the commemoration’s webpage, it is working to recognize Vietnam era veterans who served from Nov. 1, 1955 to May 15, 1975. Post 17 has partnered with the organization to become a Vietnam War Commemorative Partner.
Fischer, U.S. Marine veteran Jim Gagnon, U.S. Army veteran Nick Aprea and U.S. Air Force veteran Frank Edmonds sat at the Post on Cedar Street the day after the ceremony and discussed the pins, the war, and finally receiving recognition from the government.
“It doesn’t make up for it, but it helps. It is just a small token on behalf of the government to say, ‘We recognize you,’” Fischer said.
The four Vietnam veterans said they managed to avoid most physical and verbal harassment by hiding the fact they were in the military during that time.
Gagnon said he only wore his uniform while on base. If he left the base he would change into his civilian clothes, he said.
“I think that is what most of us did,” Edmonds added. “We avoided it by not wearing the uniforms.”
As a Vietnam War Commemorative Partner, Post 17 has a Commemorative Partnership Committee which is responsible for working with the commemoration in Washington, D.C. to inform it of the events the post is holding and obtain the pins to hand out, Edmonds said.
Although the ceremony was the first time Vietnam veterans at Post 17 had the chance to be recognized during the 50th anniversary for the war, it won’t be that last. The post is planning on holding a recognition ceremony for all Vietnam veterans in Naugatuck, regardless if they belong to the American Legion, Fischer said.
The post will partner with the Naugatuck Veterans Council for the event, which hasn’t been scheduled yet. Fischer is collecting names and preparing to contact all known Vietnam veterans in the borough.
“We want them to know they are eligible for these pins,” Fischer said.