BUFFALO, NY (WBFO) – Friday, March 29 was designated as Vietnam Veterans Day and in Western New York, numerous ceremonies were held to honor a generation of soldiers, sailors and airmen who didn’t get the heroes’ welcomes previous and later generations of service members received.
Among the venues hosting a ceremony Friday was the American Legion Matthew Glab Post 1477 in Lackawanna. Congressman Brian Higgins and Lackawanna Mayor Geoff Szymanski were among those honoring more than 100 Vietnam-era veterans in the audience.
“I think the turnout is indicative of the fact that these men and women have served our country admirably and honorably, and came back and bore the brunt of a political situation relative to the Vietnam War that should not have been put on them,” Higgins said.
Congressman Chris Collins hosted a similar ceremony at the American Legion Post 527 in Hamburg.
Among the veterans attending the event at the Matthew Glab Post was Thomas DelMonte, who served from 1967 to 1969 in the central highland of Vietnam and revealed that he recorded his first kill at the age of 18.
“That’s what they do. They train to kill,” said DelMonte, when WBFO asked how he prepared to carry out such a task. “You don’t even know what it is until it happens. Then you’re in total shock the first time. It ain’t like the movies, you know?”
But DelMonte says he was doing his job. He admitted receiving “some of the (expletive)” upon returning home from combat duty but also didn’t express any lingering bitterness about it.
“If they want to protest, protest!” he said. “It’s a free country man. That’s why we fought for it.”
Higgins says the nation now owes it to these veterans to make sure there are adequate resources to address their health needs, especially as these Vietnam veterans age.
“The fact of the matter is, people are coming back from war with both physical and mental needs that are not being met,” he said. “We do have an obligation to these veterans, and to all of our veterans, to ensure that when we say ‘thank you for your service’ that it really means something, that there’s substance behind it.”