2017-03-16 / Front Page

A recognition 'entirely too long overdue'

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County's Vietnam veterans honored 50 years after war's end
By ALAN BENNETT
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD — Three hundred forty-three: the number of veterans from Maine who were killed or went missing in action during the Vietnam War.

About 20 of those veterans who survived the war were honored for their service on Wednesday evening, in a 50th anniversary recognition ceremony held at American Legion Post 26 in Biddeford.

The ceremony, which coincided with the 98th anniversary of the American Legion, was a chance to honor those from Biddeford and all of York County who served in the brutal, 19-year war. According to the Congressional Research Service, the war killed more than 58,000 Americans and wounded more than 153,000 others.

About 9 million Americans served in the Vietnam War. Of those from Maine, 343 died in the war.

The event was organized by Rep. Martin Grohman, D-Biddeford, who said he has made it his “mission” to thank those who returned from Vietnam, known as the “Lost Generation” because they weren’t celebrated upon their return.

“When they came back 50 years ago from a difficult war of attrition that sometimes maybe felt like it didn’t have a clear purpose, we really didn’t thank them,” Grohman said at the event. “I think some of them feel like they’re taking a risk coming out tonight. … but it’s about them and I want to right that wrong.”

Wednesday’s event was held as part of Maine’s “Honoring a Veteran from a Grateful State” statute which, according to Adria O. Horn, director of Maine’s Bureau of Veterans’ Services, was enacted by the 124th Legislature to honor Vietnam’s veterans.

Those recognized at the ceremony received a coin honoring their service from the state of Maine, adorned with 16 pinecones, representing Maine’s 16 counties, an inscription thanking them for their service and 343 raised bumps, one representing each Mainer who died in the war.

Horn said ceremonies of this type happen across the state and, as a veteran herself, she’s glad she is able to thank those who deserve it most.

“It’s a privilege to be in a position to actually go around and do this around the state,” she said. “Not everyone wants to be at an event; It’s not always ... a generation that is ready or willing to bring some very raw emotions to the service and actually be recognized 50 years later.”

Horn, who served in active duty in the U.S. Army for 11 years and for five years in the U.S. Army Reserve, said many people from the “Lost Generation” have trouble admitting they deserve recognition for putting their lives on the line.

“This group and a lot of veterans will bend over backward for somebody else, but they won’t always do it for themselves,” she said. “They are very humble, and almost humble to a deficit. When it comes time for us to (recognize them), it’s difficult to find them and to get them to do it, and we want to be able to say thank you for your service and really mean it.”

Horn, who served during 2003 Invasion of Iraq, said she was given a warm welcome when she returned from war and vowed to never ignore another group of service members the way those from Vietnam were ignored.

“There’s been civil uproar saying, ‘We’re not going to do this again,’” she said. “Personally, I feel very indebted to this generation of veterans for my own service.”

Grohman said he had been planning the event with the Legion post’s former commander, Jake Mulligan, who passed away suddenly on Oct. 29.

Mulligan, a Vietnam veteran himself, was posthumously honored at the ceremony. His wife, Sharon Mulligan, accepted the award on his behalf.

“I had a hard time not crying like a fool,” she said after the ceremony. “It was amazing and I thought it was awesome that they acknowledged him even though he’s passed away.”

Sharon Mulligan said ceremonies of this type are necessary to honor a generation so many years after returning home.

“It gives me goose bumps. I love seeing these guys get acknowledged because they deserve it,” she said.

Horn agreed.

During a presentation to the crowd of about 50 service members and their families, she said the night was an occasion to give a recognition, “entirely too long overdue” to those who dedicated their lives, compelled to do so even if they did not volunteer.

Current Post Commander Raynald Hallczuk said he felt “funny” accepting a pin and coin for his Vietnam service.

“This would not have been done without Marty and it felt funny coming up here and accepting that coin and that pin and the certificate. It’s really heartwarming,” he said.

While many service members attended, a significant portion did not. Horn said a number of veterans decline to attend such events because the severity of war is still too “raw” for them — even 50 years later.

Hallczuk said the same.

“Some of our people didn’t show up because some of them — the question is, ‘When were you in Vietnam?’ The answer is sometimes, or a lot of times, ‘Last night,’” he said.

“We suffer, and our families suffer too,” Hallczuk said.

— Staff Writer Alan Bennett can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or abennett@journaltribune.com.

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