Perpetually dirty boots, cold meals and infrequent showers, were memories shared by a Vietnam War veteran during an event hosted by Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support and local partner organizations on National Vietnam War Veterans Day, March 29 at KleinLife in Northeast Philadelphia.
“The red clay on our boots never could be wiped clean,” retired Army Col. Sherwood “Woody” Goldberg, civilian aide senior to the Secretary of the Army for Washington, D.C. said. “Eating C-rations, often cold, ever hoping for a hot meal sometimes, somehow. Getting a real shower with at least warm water rather than bathing and shaving with the water in our helmets. And the mosquito nets and daily take of Malaria pills will surely not be forgotten. These are among my recollections of our time in Vietnam.”
Goldberg shared anecdotes of his experiences serving during the Vietnam War to approximately 70 other Vietnam War veterans, their friends and family members and other military and civilian guests.
The event was in support of the Department of Defense’s Vietnam War Commemoration Program. Vietnam War Commemoration Program events recognize military veterans who served on active duty between 1955 and 1975 and did not receive the ‘welcome home’ other warfighters have throughout history, due to political contentions of the time.
During the ceremony, each Vietnam War veteran received a Vietnam War Veteran Lapel Pin for their service from senior military officers and civilian leaders. Members of the USO Show Troupe from New York City also performed songs popular during the Vietnam War era and military service medleys.
“Today, when service members like myself return home from our deployments, you will always find someone greeting us and cheering us, giving us a loud and emotional ‘welcome home,’” DLA Troop Support Commander Army Brig. Gen. Mark Simerly said. “And often times, the ones leading those celebrations are Vietnam War veterans like yourselves, who sought to make sure the next generation of service members did not go through what you did.”
Goldberg highlighted the sacrifices made by those who served during the Vietnam War era.
“Be assured your volunteer service, or whether you were drafted into service, know that your service was most honorable and increasingly appreciated not only by Americans, but by the people of Southeast Asia,” Goldberg said. “It was not easy to leave family and friends for the far, distant, little-known country of South Vietnam. It was not easy in the jungles, rice patties, dust and dirt, the cold during the rainy season or the often blistering heat of Southeast Asia.”
Air Force veteran M. B. Kanis attested to the challenges at home for military service members during that era.
“Whether you were stateside support or combat, at the time people spit on us,” Kanis said. “The people who were drafted are really the people who should be honored here because they didn’t have a choice. During the war, we never got the welcome that others did.”
Kanis served from 1970 to 1976, for his first tour, and again during Desert Storm. He expressed gratitude for the event recognition.
“I thought [the event] was excellent,” Kanis said. “This brought memories of supporting in Vietnam, [and] memories of what it was like back then and what a difference it is now to serve honorably. On behalf of the guys that I represent as the commander of V.F.W. Post 215, each and every one of them said that they greatly appreciated being recognized.”
The Greater Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce sponsored the event, and the following Vietnam War Commemoration Program partners supported the event: the Association of the U.S. Army William Penn Chapter and the Corporal Michael J. Crescenz Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Local nonprofit, A Hero’s Welcome, also participated and provided personalized certificates to veterans in attendance. Volunteer Ken Walker said this was the fourth commemorative event he has participated in.
“I get a lot of satisfaction welcoming the Vietnam War vets who never got welcomed home,” Walker said.
Navy Capt. Gerald Raia, Troop Support Construction and Equipment director said he was honored to participate in the event.
“I believe it’s our duty to support the event because the Vietnam War veterans have done so much for our country, and this is our time to recognize their accomplishments and thank them for their service,” Raia said.