Vietnam vets get hometown welcome
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | April 08,2013
Anthony Edwards / Staff Photo
Members of the Bennington Brownie Troop march with plaques honoring fallen soldiers during a parade in Bennington on Sunday for veterans that served during the Vietnam War.
Hundreds of people turned out in Bennington on Sunday for a downtown parade and a ceremony at the Vermont Veterans Home which was intended to thank the soldiers who served in Vietnam, which included one local leader, and honor those who never returned home.
Joseph Krawczyk Jr., a retired Army colonel who is now chairman of the Select Board and once served as a state representative, spoke about his own experience in Vietnam.
“When I came back to the world, the land of the big PX as we called it back in those days, in February 1970, I’m not sure I would stand up and say I was a Vietnam veteran or that I would walk around the streets wearing a jacket that showed I was a combat veteran or wearing a hat that says I was wounded because the crowds I would see there were probably anti-war protesters and not a great group, people like we have here today,” he said.
Sunday started with a parade that went from Main Street in Bennington to the veterans home. Marchers included veterans, including veterans of the war in Vietnam, several Girl Scout troops from Bennington County and members of Bravo Troop, 1st Squadron 172nd Cavalry Regiment (Mountain) of the Vermont Army National Guard, which is stationed in Bennington.
The march was part of an unusual 50th anniversary commemoration of the Vietnam War, proclaimed by President Barack Obama in May 2012, which will last through Nov. 11, 2025. A special commemorative flag has been issued for the event and those flags, on loan to the veterans home, were raised on Sunday.
But while members of the crowd Sunday cheered and thanked the veterans who served in Vietnam, many of the veterans still remembered the past.
Bob LaBrode, of North Adams, Mass., served from 1968 to 1969, as a member of the U.S. Navy’s River Division 531, nicknamed the “River Rats.” LaBrode called Sunday’s event “absolutely gorgeous” but still noted that it was “something that should have happened a long time ago.
‘‘The only thing I can say is that a lot of our brothers are dead and gone. They will always be remembered as long as there’s one Vietnam vet left standing, they’ll always be remembered, and if we have a legacy, the legacy that we’ll leave behind is that nobody that ever serves in the service will ever be treated like we were,” he said.
Krawczyk recalled that he was only 18 when he was drafted and the experience changed his life.
“I turned 21 in a rice paddy over there. Wasn’t old enough to drink here in Vermont. I wasn’t old enough to vote here in the United States of America, but I was a platoon leader responsible for 50 men. … During my nine months as platoon leader, I never saw an act of cowardice and I saw many acts of bravery and heroism,” he said.
John Miner, president of the Vermont chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America, organized Sunday’s parade and said there was a difference between Sunday and an expression that soldiers used, “Don’t mean nothing.”
“Well guess what? We changed that. This means something to all of us,” he said.
Retired Maj. Gen. Peter Aylward spoke about the goals of the 50th anniversary commemoration which include showing appreciation for veterans who served at a difficult time and received little thanks and events like Sunday’s which was “hometown-centric.”
“We want to thank and honor veterans where they live,” he said.
Joe Young of Brattleboro, president of Rolling Thunder’s Vermont chapter, said there were about a dozen members of the club in Bennington on Sunday. Young, an Army veteran who served in Iraq, said it was the brotherhood of the event that most affected him.
“It doesn’t matter what war you’ve been in, what you’re a veteran of, a veteran is a veteran regardless,” he said. “You’re brothers and sisters, it don’t matter what war.”