DANSVILLE — The wait is over for a generation of servicemen to be acknowledged for what they did for their country.
It has been over five decades, but the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Day has finally arrived.
On March 29 the Dansville American Legion held an informal event to celebrate the day with local Vietnam War Veterans.
Dansville American Legion Women’s Auxiliary Chaplain Kathy Nagle wanted the first time to be a casual event in order to make the veterans more comfortable.
“They can come to visit with each other, help themselves to some good food, and can reminisce about the war days,” she said. “I was nervous about how it would turnout, but we had a good amount show up.”
Nagle wanted a relaxed day amongst old friends for the Vietnam War Veterans.
“A lot of the Vietnam (War) Veterans here are guys I went to school with,” she said. “This is personal to me. They didn’t do anything last year to honor them, so I wanted to do something relaxing.”
Vietnam War Veteran US Army Spc. John Nagle, Kathy’s husband, served in Vietnam from 1965 to 1966.
“I think it is super we are finally being recognized,” he said. “I was surprised when I heard about this. When I got out of the war it wasn’t quite as bad as it was later on.”
Nagle enlisted into the US Army since he had a hard time getting work.
“We sailed over in 22 days,” he said. “It really was a nice cruise. Jimmy Kreiley was another local boy and my friend who enlisted with me. We were schoolmates who enlisted together.”
Nagle added that he worked on payroll and travel books in a tent that was meant to be an office.
“We saw planes go day and night,” he said. “You could hear bombs going off all around you. We served and did what we were told to do regardless of where we were.”
Dansville American Legion Women’s Auxiliary Secretary Diane Dunning collected the bronze pins for all of the Vietnam War Veterans on this special day.
Vietnam War Veteran US Air Force Sgt. Mark Dunning, Diane’s husband, served several years of active duty in Vietnam from 1966 to 1972.
“When we were on our way home there was a fight that took place on the plane in San Francisco, and we got spit on and called baby killers,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it. I wanted work when I got home, so I worked for the garbage crew a couple of months.”
A small act of compassion from a fellow soldier gave Dunning a job of a lifetime at the Steuben County Jail.
“I was a correctional officer for 34 years. He (Sheriff Lisi) was the best man I ever knew. He was like a father to me,” Dunning said. “He was a great man who had a lot of compassion. I learned a lot from him. He was a Marine as well, and he helped a lot of people.”
Diane Dunning also worked in the Stebeun County Jail, and mentioned how that is where they met.
“It was really great of him (Sheriff Lisi) to take young soldiers and give them a chance,” she said. “They all have a story to share. We need high school students to hear what these men accomplished.”
Mark Dunning talked fondly about playing big band music, classic rock, and country when he came home.
“God gives us all gifts and talents. The hurt that people feel I can feel it too. I hugged my mom goodbye when I left for duty. I felt that call to serve.”
“We were all dropped in the middle of a jungle. We had bombs and bullets flying everywhere,” Dunning continued. “I had to fly 800 miles-per-hour into these jungles and I had no clue. When I saw we were losing fuel I got us into a safe airspace. I was scared to death, but God was with me every inch of the way. I did my part, and I was happy to serve. I would go back and do it again if I could. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Dunning, like so many of his fellow servicemen, wept tears of joy when the news of Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Day came to fruition.
“I think it has been a long time coming. I wept when I heard it,” he said. “I was exposed to Agent Orange over there. They sprayed it all over our barracks. They keep you asking for help until you get really sick, and than they let you die off the books. We are just not getting treated for it. When I inhaled the Agent Orange it ruined my throat.”
Diane Dunning said that Agent Orange is still affecting veterans 50 years later.
“They are in great need of help and medical coverage,” she said. “They have this mindset that it doesn’t matter, because no one will help anyway. At the time when they sprayed this stuff they didn’t understand the consequences of the chemicals. How many veterans have to suffer and age poorly to finally get help 50 years later.”
Community Liaison Mike Palmesano is one of the Vietnam War Veterans who took honor in this day. Palmesano served from 1965 to 1993.
“In part some of us who served in the Vietnam War era do not feel as worthy,” he said. “I am one of those who felt it in my heart, body, and soul to serve. I was willing and able to go over there, but was never sent to Vietnam. I was always regretful that I wasn’t chosen. My heart, mind, and soul was with all of you overseas.”
Palmesano read off a message from Assemblyman Joe Errigo to honor Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Day.
Jason Skinner, director of Livingston County Veterans Services was present to give veterans any information they needed on services to help them.
“I am setting up people with information and appointments, so that they can get what they need. It has been a long time coming,” he said. “This day never gained any traction in 1973 when it was first mentioned. As a younger veteran I can appreciate what this era went through. They paved the way for other veterans to be accepted.”
“Our generation owes them all a great debt of gratitude,” Skinner continued. “It is a lot easier to get benefits now, because of the sacrifice they all made.”
Vietnam War and US Air Force Veteran Chris Geiselmann gave a story that honored his father, who was a World War II veteran. “The Day Roosevelt Died” is an account of what his father went through. Geiselmann served in the Vietnam War from 1972 to 1973.
“I went to college, but wasn’t doing so well. I got drafted into the Vietnam War. They gave me a three month window to join whatever branch of service I wanted, so I joined the US Air Force,” he said. “I think it is really nice to finally be appreciated. When we came home the only people who showed us appreciation were family and friends. Everyone else wanted to forget the war ever happened.”