Hudson County and the City of Hoboken recognized the men and women who served the country during the Vietnam War with a ceremony at the memorial on Pier A Park on Wednesday, March 29. The ceremony was one of several organized around the county by
JoAnn Northgrave, who works for the Hudson County Department of Veterans Affairs.
Led by Northgrave, Mayor Dawn Zimmer, Freeholder Anthony Romano, Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro, and Commander John Carey of American Legion Post 107, the event included local high school students, veterans, and police officers.
High school sophomore Gianly Santiago helped open the ceremony by singing the national anthem after the Police Department’s color guard presented the flags.
“I felt like it was a very courageous occasion that needs to be celebrated and I wanted to be a part of it,” said Santiago.
The Vietnam War started in 1954 and ended in 1975. The conflict pitted the communist government of North Vietnam and its allies in South Vietnam, known as the Viet Cong, against the government of South Vietnam and its principal ally, the United States. Many Americans at the time did not believe in the United State’s involvement and many protested the war and the draft.
The ranks of the veterans are dwindling and roughly six veterans attended the ceremony on Wednesday.
“We are gathered to recognize and honor our Vietnam Veterans and their families for their services,” said Northgrave. “On this date in 1973, the last combat troops were withdrawn from Vietnam and the last POW’s held in North Vietnam arrived on American soil. This commemoration recognizes all men and women who served in active duty. This is our second year, and we plan on doing this for as long as we possibly can.”
Romano said, “We are here to remember our Vietnam vets. I was in high school at the time, but I know they were not well received and treated wrongly. Hopefully, we will never ever forget them again because they gave so much and fought gallantly. God bless each and every one of you. Hoboken sacrificed. We feel the pain. We will never forget it. Thank you for the honor.”
Zimmer proud of partnership
Zimmer also spoke to the crowd of about 15 people who came to honor the veterans and spoke of the city’s partnership with the legion and county to provide homes for veterans.
“It is extremely important that we come together to honor our Vietnam veterans,” she said. “In addition to events like this, I am proud that we are able to put our thoughts and prayers into action, and I am proud of the partnership that we have with the American Legion and the partnership that we have with the county to make sure that we are helping and supporting our veterans and moving forward with the American Legion project to provide assistance.”
The American Legion is currently raising funds to rebuild their post and provide housing for six homeless veterans.
Chaparro said that in the future she hopes that local school children will attend the ceremony.
“I think moving forward we should have our schools come here as a field trip to honor our brave men and women,” said Chaparro. “It is important. I think that sometimes we can’t do enough for our veterans. We need to make sure that our children are involved because we need to involve them more to understand the history and pride we have here in Hoboken. This place should be filled with kids from our schools here to honor our veterans and I think going forward we will work on that.”
50 years later
“In two weeks, I will celebrate the 50th anniversary of coming home after the war,” said Carey. “We were young. We served our country and we came back without a thank you. We are finally getting that. Thank you here today, 50 years later.”
Zimmer and Romano laid a wreath on the memorial and high school senior Adrian Rey performed taps at the end of the ceremony.
“There was no flag raising. No one welcomed us home.” – John Carey
Music teacher Dave Stasiak helped the students prepare for their performances. He said it didn’t take much. “She [Santiago] is one of my best singers and he is one of my best trumpet players so they didn’t require much coaching.”
After the ceremony, Carey said, “It was a bad time. It was a turbulent time. There was no flagraising. No one welcomed us home. We were all young kids. I was actually the oldest in my unit. I was 21 and they called me ‘gramps’.”
Carey said, “Back then, the perception was we were all killers and murderers because everyone questioned our involvement there. We were just kids.”
Vietnam Veteran Jim Vance flew armed helicopters during his time stationed in Saigon after dropping out of college and volunteering for the draft.
After returning to the states to train other soldiers, he volunteered again to fly Cobra helicopters.
“We used to joke that if you didn’t come back with leaves in your rocket pods, you were flying too high,” said Vance, who received a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. “We thought we were immortal.”
He said upon his return to Idaho he didn’t run into any protests or backlash for serving because the state was very conservative. But after his return he joined the peace movement and began marching and protesting against the war.
“By that time, I really started to disagree with our involvement in Vietnam,” said Vance. “Once I really started to think about it, I didn’t think we should be there. Especially for that long. My story’s a little bit different then other veterans. But I don’t feel guilty for serving, or for protesting.”
Marilyn Baer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.