More than 220 attendees gathered last Friday to honor and thank Vietnam veterans at a homecoming event held at the American Legion Post 60 in Berkeley Springs.
A luncheon and veterans ceremonies marked March 29, the state and national Vietnam War veterans holiday.
The Morgan County Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund organization arranged the afternoon of remembrance and honor.
Local restaurants donated sandwiches and salads for the luncheon, and volunteers baked desserts.
Following lunch, speakers talked about the unique experience of having served in the war in Vietnam.
“Today we are paying a special tribute to Vietnam veterans,” said American Legion Post 60 commander Dan Duckwall.
He said the distinction between those who served in Vietnam and those who were in the U.S. military during the war years has been smoothed out in the years since the last troops returned home.
Duckwall recalled what it was like for a soldier to return home to America after service in Vietnam.
“The reception was hardly a rousing welcome back,” he said, remembering that many soldiers immediately swapped their uniforms for civilian clothes upon returning to the United States “to avoid becoming an object of scorn.”
“This is intended to partially make up for that oversight, and to thank veterans and their families,” said Duckwall. “There were more than 58,000 military personnel who paid the ultimate sacrifice.”
Vietnam veterans are considered any members of the military who served at any time between November 1, 1955 to May 15, 1975.
Duckwall noted that as of 2017, when Vietnam War veterans holiday was established, there were 6.9 million living veterans of that war.
Members of Girl Scout Troop 15045 led the Pledge of Allegiance at the Friday luncheon. The Tri-State Honor Guard made a military salute and demonstrated the folding of the American flag and narrated the meaning of each fold.
Memorial fund volunteer Crystal Chapman told attendees that over $130,000 has been raised for a monument to Morgan County residents who served in the Vietnam War. The cost of building the monument is estimated at $225,000.
Chapman said many volunteers have helped put on fundraising events, baked, gone door to door to identify local veterans and researched military records. Those who served in Vietnam and live in Morgan County are still eligible to be added to the monument.
Volunteers with the Quilts of Valor group presented five handmade patriotic-patterned quilts to veterans at the event. Local quilters make the quilts to provide comfort to those who served, and honor their service.
Penny Long, sister of Tony McBee, spoke about her brother who died in 1973 aboard the USS Coronado in Puerto Rico during his war service.
Other family members of local soldiers killed during the war shared their memories. Rita Kitchen talked about her brother Larry Clark, who she said was “outgoing, happy go lucky.” He had just turned 20 when he was killed in an attack on February 2, 1968.
“He was due home in March,” his sister said. “We’re so proud of him.”
To the gathered Vietnam veterans in the room, Kitchen gave her thanks.
“I’m glad you made it back safe,” she said.
Dr. Larry Schwab of Morgantown told how he took care of Reid Tyrone Styers during an attack on the base where he served in the medical corps.
Styers later died of injuries he received in the heavy attack.
“He’s the son of your county. He didn’t shirk his duty, but he served when he was called,” Schwab said.
Schwab, who has been diagnosed with cancer connected to his exposure to Agent Orange, told veterans they should seek help if suffering from war-related problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
“It’s never too late to get help,” he said.
LaTonya Day talked about her father, Sgt. Lloyd Spitler. He served in the Army from 1962 to 1970, after graduating from Paw Paw High School in 1971. He was known then as Lloyd Leach, after his stepfather.
Spitler served two deployments in Vietnam, then enlisted in the U.S. Navy. In January of 1977, he died when the liberty ship he was aboard struck a freighter and capsized in Barcelona, Spain. Day said at her father’s funeral, two American flags were presented to the family. One is with her family, and the other hangs in the Paw Paw Schools gymnasium.
Search for vets continues
Veterans or next of kin can also call Chuck Hampe at 304-258-1722 or sign up in person the first Saturday of every month from 8-10 a.m. at the American Legion Post 60 monthly breakfast, or at any event.
Anyone interested in more information about the Morgan County Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund can visit www.mcvvmf.org online.