Sparse turnout dismays Vietnam veterans

HUDSON –Last Saturday morning was cloudy with a raw wind blowing as the veterans of the Vietnam War and other wars along with friends and family gathered in front of the Columbia County Courthouse to observe Vietnam Veterans Day. Many of those gathered were dismayed by the sparse turnout of the citizenry.

“I guess it’s not an election year,” said one of the attendees.

A group wearing the black leather motorcycle jackets emblazoned with the Veterans of Vietnam of America Motorcycle Club insignia rode up from Saugerties for the event. Their six representatives comprised nearly a third of the total turnout. The club’s state president, who introduced himself as “Dutch” said he has come to the Hudson event for several years.

“We don’t have this in Ulster County,” he said.

Five years ago President Barack Obama proclaimed March 29 Vietnam Veterans Day, a day on which the nation would “pay tribute to the fallen, the missing, the wounded, the millions who served and the millions more who awaited their return.” For the past six years the Hudson VFW Post 1314 and the Hudson American Legion Post 184 have conducted a ceremony at the Vietnam War monument in front of the Columbia County Courthouse.

The scheduled guest speaker was Mike J. Hoag, commander of District 3 New York VFW, but he was unable to attend due to illness. In his place Tim Broder of Greene County VFW Post 49 provided comments. Command Sergeant Major Gary Flaherty of Canaan introduced him, but took a few moments for himself to speak of a letter he had received from a friend, saying “to say ‘friends’ sounds too intimate. In war you learn to keep people at a distance, and at home you continue this.” He said that the experience of a veteran of war is not something that you can change out of like a change of clothes. It’s always with you.

Mr. Broder spoke of the fight that continues for healthcare and recognition for veterans. “We didn’t go quietly into the night as the generation of the ’70s wanted us to,” he said. He spoke of the establishment of the Vietnam Veterans Day and said, “Never again will one generation of vets abandon another.”

A list of the names of soldiers from Columbia and Greene Counties who died in military service during the Vietnam War was read aloud by Mr. Broder and Hudson VFW Post 1314 Quartermaster Randy Staats.

Mr. Staats concluded his reading by saying, “It’s just like when we came back and nobody cared.”

Later he said, “I thought it was disrespectful of the public, not to come out and attend this. It really did feel like when we came back from Vietnam. We only had 22 people there.”

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