Nearly 300 people gathered at Morgan County’s first Vietnam Veterans homecoming event at American Legion Post 60 in Berkeley Springs last Thursday, March 29 to show their appreciation for the men and women who served in that war, and remember those who didn’t return home from battle.
The homecoming, which included a meal for veterans, families and supporters, was also another step in the local effort to build a Vietnam Veterans memorial for Morgan County service members.
Brother and sister team Chuck Hampe and Tari Hampe-Deneen have been pushing the memorial effort forward with the help of a board of directors and crew of volunteers, and the guidance of the American Legion Post 60. Board members of the Morgan County Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund are G.W. Easton, Ron Barker, Lynn Hutchinson, Ira Manley, Linda Schlicht, Hazel
Morton, Mike Cooper, Kevin Shepherd, Glenn Ryburn and Vince Shambaugh.
The all-volunteer group has planned and held fundraising events to gather $65,000 of the $225,000 needed to build a memorial monument in downtown Berkeley Springs. They’ve also reached far and wide for information about the Morgan County men and women who served in the Vietnam War, those who died in service and those who should be included on the memorial structure because of their local roots.
March 29 was chosen as the Vietnam Veterans holiday to mark the day when the last of American troops returned from the war.
For many veterans of that war, the return home was not to a hero’s welcome.
Roughly 60 Vietnam veterans were among the crowded tables at the American Legion last Thursday. A handful stood after dinner and memorial ceremonies to talk about their service.
Tom Yost said the lyrics of a song by Billy Ray Cyrus capture something timeless about the war and its veterans. His song says, “All gave some and some gave all.”
“We all gave some. A lot of us gave a lot. But some gave all,” he said, gesturing to a table set in honor of seven Morgan County soldiers who died during the Vietnam War. “That’s what this is about.”
Paul Leftridge, who is an Air Force veteran of the war, spent three years in Vietnam.
“I didn’t like it. I was in the Air Force but I seen enough of the dirt that I definitely didn’t like it,” Leftridge said. Coming home wasn’t what he expected.
“I came into Travis Air Force base and they threw eggs, tomatoes, rotten cabbages at us,” Leftridge said. “Maybe the aircraft we loaded did kill young people, but they were killing us as fast as we were killing them.”
Leftridge said he was able, finally, to accept the homecoming he and fellow soldiers got.
“I thank God for each and every one of us here – that you were able to come celebrate with me with this dinner we had and this memorial we’re going to build.”
Franklin Terrell of Hedgesville said he left Vietnam on New Year’s Eve 1967 on a C-130. This past year, on the 50th anniversary of his departure, Terrell and his wife returned to Vietnam.
“To have been there through war and gone back during peace is something,” he said.
The couple’s tour guide during their recent visit was the son of a Vietcong soldier. Terrell said the war affected everyone.
“This is the greatest country in the world,” he said. “We have to absolutely, positively fight to protect this nation. This is a great nation because we’re allowed to have differences. We need to learn to respect our differences. We need more love,” said Terrell.
Ragtime, a Marine Corps veteran, spent August 1967 to September 1968 in Vietnam along the demilitarized zone. He was an 81mm mortar man with Battalion 33.
“When I got back from ‘Nam, I had a lot going through me,” he said, reciting a poem he wrote at that time.
Dr. Schwab, a combat surgeon who treated a Morgan County soldier’s burns and injuries on a small fire support base in May 1968, told veterans he, too, struggled after the war.
“Like a lot of Vietnam veterans, when I returned from service I wrestled with a lot of demons because of what I saw and did and was exposed to. It took me 40 years to get help,” Dr. Schwab said. He said the VA hospital system is “a great institution.”
“If any of you are still wrestling with those demons, get help. It’s never too late. Don’t be too proud, too macho to seek help,” said Schwab.
The Morgan County Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund is still seeking veterans to be added to the memorial before a deadline of August 18. The group can be reached through the American Legion Post 60, online or by calling 304-258-5780.