“It’s been long overdue.”
That was the message U.S. Army veteran Raymond Sachetti said about Vietnam War veterans being recognized over the years for their service.
“It should have happened back in 1975 when the war was over,” said Sachetti, who served in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970.
On Wednesday, the Vietnam Agent Orange Veterans Project hosted a lapel pin ceremony for Vietnam veterans and their families at the New Castle Fraternal Order of Eagles Club.
The Eagles Club also gave a donation to the project.
U.S. Amy veteran Bruce Smith, who served from 1965 to 1969, including two years in Vietnam, said he and other veterans appreciate feeling welcomed and thanked now, as that wasn’t always the case.
“We never got a welcome home,” Smith said, calling back to the era of the war.
Hugh Coryea II, a Navy veteran and CEO of the local Agent Orange Veterans Project, organized the event. His father was a Vietnam veteran.
“The Vietnam vets didn’t get a very good welcome home when they came back from Vietnam,” Coryea said.
Coryea said many of the veterans upon returning home were called things like “baby killers” and “baby rapists,” and were looked down upon due to the protests.
“I talked to a lot of veterans who went into the bathroom and threw their uniform in the garbage, and went in their civilian clothes,” Coryea said.
At every hour during the three-hour event, all Vietnam veterans who attended were given a special Vietnam veteran lapel pin.
The front of the pin has a bald eagle, a blue circle to represent the American flag, which symbolizes vigilance, perseverance, and justice, a laurel wreath and six stars, which represent six allied nations that fought together during the war — United States, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea and Thailand.
The back of the pin has the message “A Grateful Nation Thanks and Honors You.”
Family members of Vietnam veterans were also given special pins as well.
Emmett Shaffer, Coryea’s father who served two years in the army and one in Vietnam, said he didn’t like the way the veterans were treated back then, but likes the events his son puts on for them now.
“He’s doing a real good job trying to help the veterans,” Shaffer said.
Jeffrey Olson, the western section vice commander for the Department of Pennsylvania for the U.S. American Legion, said this event, and other events like it, are a “long overdue acknowledgement” for those veterans.
Coryea noted he feels the public perception of Vietnam veterans has gotten better over the years.
Many Vietnam veterans, including Shaffer, have complications from Agent Orange. Others have died.
Agent Orange was a chemical herbicide used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War in order to remove leaves and other foliage that gave enemy fighters cover. There are 14 diseases associated with exposure, including leukemia and Parkinson’s disease. Approximately two million veterans worldwide have died from exposure.
U.S. Marines veteran Al Lengyel said he served up to 1963, just avoiding being drafted into the war.
However, his brother took his place in Vietnam in 1968, and later died as a result of Agent Orange.
“A lot of men never came back,” Lengyel said.
Coryea said the treatment veterans suffering from Agent Orange effects varies from quick care to having to wait six or seven months to get an appointment with Veterans Affairs.
Around five years ago, he started the Vietnam Agent Orange Veterans Project. In Cascade Park at the Agent Orange dog tag tree, Lengyel said his brother’s dog tag is the very first one at the top.
The organization also buys “survival coats,” which turn into sleeping bags, for unhoused veterans. They also buy gift cards for different organizations to help give meals to veterans during the different holidays. When Coryea announced this event, he said he didn’t have to make a plea for donations — they came in organically in the form of money and food.
Representatives from Lawrence County government were in attendance, including County Commissioner Loretta Spielvogel, Treasurer Richard Rapone, Register and Recorder Tammy Crawford and Jesse Putnam, the director of the Lawrence County Veteran’s Office.
Representatives from U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly’s (R-16) office and state Rep. Chris Sainato’s (D-9) office were in attendance, with Sainato typing out a letter of support for each veteran.
Marla Brown, a Republican running against Sainato in the Nov. 8 election, was in attendance as well.
“‘We’ blamed them for serving,” Spielvogel said. “They didn’t have a choice. They were doing what they were told. It was a tragedy.”
Rapone said the rights and freedoms that we have today in this country are thanks to the veterans who served. He also wanted to thank Coryea for the event and all the work he has done for veterans.
Crawford, whose husband Jack served with the U.S. Marines from 1986 to 1993, said she always wants to thank and support veterans.