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History Center events celebrate Vietnam vets

Jacob DeRochie/contributing photographer

Gary Napieracz, an Army veteran and Ron Dexter, a Marine veteran, with Vietnam Veterans of America talk about the importance of Thursday’s Vietnam Veterans welcome home event at the Central New York Living History Center. The center hosted veterans for a brief presentation and lunch.

Vietnam veterans were welcomed home Thursday at the Central New York Living History Museum, 45 years after the last troops left Vietnam.

The commemoration was part of National Vietnam War Veterans Day, set on the day the last troops left Vietnam, March 29, 1973.

About 30 veterans and their loved ones gathered in an auditorium and heard from museum officials, veterans groups and a U.S. Army officer, before being treated to lunch.

Ken Smith, who served in the U.S. Air Force, said that having the day marked and celebrated as it was makes it personal for him. Three of his four siblings all served in Vietnam.

“Not only do I have my own family and my church family but I have my military family, who if they didn’t support me I might not be here today,” Smith said.

Smith noted he spent his tour on a base, was fed good food and left with no injuries, better than many others.

Gary Napieracz, who served with the U.S. Army from 1969 to 1971 in Vietnam, said the day’s events bring to life a slogan many vets had when they returned home: That no one generation shall ever abandon another.

Napieracz and his friend Ron Dexter, a Marine, are both members of the Dryden chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America, which saw a group of about nine at Thursday’s ceremony.

“We’re getting our day finally,” Dexter said. “Most of our lives, we didn’t talk about being in the Vietnam War.”

Dexter and Napieracz said it was common for returning soldiers to be spat upon and called names like “baby killers,” making readjustment to civilian life difficult.

That’s what brought Lt. Col. Roberta Comerford, with the New York Army National Guard, and a representative of the Daughters of the American Revolution, to tears.

She served in Iraq and upon returning in March 2008 was greeted with cheers, she recalled.

“They weren’t received properly or welcomed home like I was,” she said. “I think it’s important to honor their service and welcome them home the same as I was welcomed home.”

Vietnam was a 30-year civil war, from the day the Viet Minh sought to overthrow French colonial authorities until the day Saigon fell in 1975.

Since the earliest involvement in the 1950s, 58,220 U.S. military personnel would die, the first on June 8, 1956. Another 303,000 were wounded. Sixty-one percent of those dead troops were 21 or younger.

Napieracz said the average age of a Vietnam Veteran today is 71 1/2, calling them a “dying generation.”

The first National Vietnam War Veterans Day was celebrated in 2012 by a proclamation by then-President Barack Obama. The commemoration was signed into law last year by President Donald Trump.

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