DANSVILLE — It had been a long time coming for a generation of forgotten heroes, but for the second year a large group of veterans have taken part in Vietnam Veterans Appreciation Day.
On March 30 the Dansville American Legion had a display of Livingston County Vietnam Veterans etched from the Washington D.C. Vietnam Veterans War Memorial. There were 21 local heroes who lost their lives in Vietnam.
Jason Skinner, Livingston County veterans services director, said that he visited the memorial and got the etches of the local soldiers framed. He plans on having the names on display at various places around the county.
Skinner also began a project in honor of the 100th Anniversary of Veterans Day coming Nov. 11.
“We started the idea six months ago,” he said. “We know that this will be the 100th Anniversary of Veterans Day. We wanted to do something special. Olson (Mount Morris Metal Shop) ran with the idea. He sketched a flag with red poppies flowing through it. The veterans will be a part of the project. Olson said if the veterans are part of it he would do the project for free.”
Veterans are able to make the metal poppies in honor of other veterans, and that makes the whole project extra special.
“This is a project I am really proud of,” he said. “Olson is happy that the veterans are the ones making them. We just had a World War Two veteran make one.”
Don Higgins, Patriot Guard Riders senior ride captain, said he is making a metal poppy for his father, Wally Higgins, and uncle, Don Higgins, who were both in World War Two.
Skinner said that the display with the 21 local Vietnam Veterans is something to be honored as well.
“We got an etch of all the local veterans who died in Vietnam. These are the local people who served, and they didn’t get to come home,” he said. “We had some Vietnam Veterans see it first displayed at the Government Center in Geneseo, and they were all moved to tears. They are very glad to see this.
“This is the only way we can all have a beer with these heroes,” Skinner continued. “Every year we will put these up so the public will get to see them on Vietnam Veterans Day.”
Skinner said his generation owes a great deal of gratitude to the Vietnam War Veterans who didn’t get the welcome they deserved when they came home.
Vietnam Veteran Higgins has two special things he wears everyday on his wrists. He wears a band with James Sweet of South Lima who served in the Marine Corps. And died after his medivac was hit and crashed into a mountain in Vietnam in 1968. Higgins wears on his other wrist a band that was made by a veteran with several purple hearts who wove a purple thread in after a Patriot Ride almost cost Higgins his life.
Vietnam Veteran Patrick Kenney of Dansville brought his scrapbook of Vietnam War photos to share for the event. Sgt. Kenney served in Long Binh, Vietnam from 1969-1970. Kenney was part of the 92nd Engineer Platoon.
“When I got the draft notice I knew the Vietnam War was not popular, so I thought I would go enlist so I could chose where to go. I wanted to decide where I would be stationed, so I wouldn’t have to go to Vietnam. I said I wanted to go to Alaska since I like wildlife, and my second choice was West Germany since I liked Europe. I never got to see either one. Nine months later I was sent to Vietnam.”
Kenney said that some of the photos are very impressive and special to him.
“I had a monkey grab my nose like a baby, and took a photo with him,” he said. “We found the only kind of mammal with scales (Pangolin) hanging on a water well concrete pole. I reached down to grab him, and he was all curled up like a ball.”
There is one photo that is kept at the bedside in Kenney’s home to this day.
“I have this photo of these two kids by my bed at home. I worked this job by the Sigan River, and I would watch them carry equipment for us,” he said. “We would give them sea rations and a few dollars. After a few days they didn’t come back to the village, and I thought something bad had happened to them. I found out if they were not there it was because they were busy that day. Those kids saved my life many times. If they are still alive they would be in their 60s now. Those kids are very special to me.”
Kenney said that it took a long time for him to be able to look at these photos. When he came home he wanted to surprise his parents, so he just had his duffle bag. He went hitchhiking to Dansville from Rochester and two big guys picked him up. He was too scared to tell them he was a solider coming home from Vietnam, so he told them he was on his way back from vacation.
“It is very special for us to have this day. It has been a long time coming,” he said. “For a long time I didn’t tell anyone about Vietnam.”
Vietnam Veteran Harvey Teed of Dansville served in the US Navy from 1957-1963 and Army National Guard from 1967 to 1995. He was on the ship the whole time or stateside. He never was in Vietnam.
Teed said that he had buddies who served in combat during Vietnam and they remained suffering from PTSD their whole lives.
“It is about time Vietnam Veterans are recognized. It has been a long time coming. There are a lot that have still not been thanked for their service. They were treated so badly when they came home, by all those who were strongly against the war,” he said. “Those who suffer from PTSD have never had it go away. They got treated like crap when they came home. Lots of these guys more than deserve to be honored. Lots of them still live with how they were treated. They still have flashbacks to the war.”
Vietnam Veteran Chuck Nadeau served in the US AirForce from 1964-1968. He joined the Air Force since his father told him too. His father was in the US Air Force in World War Two. He was friends with some of the men whose names are etched on the display. Robert Sickles of Avon died 1968, Paul Fusco of Avon died 1968, Edwin Upright of Avon died 1967, and John Geary of Avon died 1966.