November 29, 2021

Parade in Marathon pays tribute to Vietnam vets

‘We’re here for them’

Shenandoah Briere/contributing photographer

Cassey Forrest, left, and her sister McKineze Forrest lead the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Parade Saturday in Marathon along with Marathon Village Mayor William McGovern.

As the parade proceeded Saturday down Brink Street looping on to East Main Street in Marathon, residents watched, waved and cheered from their porches and sidewalks.

It was the state’s first Vietnam Veterans Welcome Home Parade.

“I thought it was nice to finally get a welcome home,” said Jerry Fulmer, who served from 1971 to 1972 in the Air Force.

The event, organized by the American Legion Auxiliary 6th District, was meant to honor Vietnam Veterans and was scheduled a day after National Vietnam Veterans Day. It draw dozens of marchers in the parade, and as many supporters on the street, followed by a variety of events through the afternoon at the Marathon Civic Center.

Fulmer, of Cayuga County, said he used to call the Vietnam War the “ignored war” because when he and other soldiers came home, the country wanted nothing to do with them.

Vet Harvey Baker or Groton said he felt the same way.

“You couldn’t travel in your uniform without being assaulted emotionally or physically,” he said.

He noted returning men wouldn’t even mention in applications they had served because they were afraid they wouldn’t get jobs. Movies and shows didn’t help with their public perception either.

Robert Bertrand of Pompey and a 1968 Vietnam vet drives a truck displaying about 44 handmade flags with enlargements of the shoulder patches worn by soldiers at the parade Saturday in Marathon.

“For 30 or more years, we were the bad guys in the movies, so the public had these bad opinions of us without even talking to us,” he said. “We were just trying to survive over there.”

However, Fulmer and Baker said the attitude toward Vietnam Vets has changed.

“There’s been a shift in the tide where people are starting to recognize us,” Fulmer said.

He attended the parade with three other members of the Chapter 704 Vietnam Veterans of America from Auburn — Nick Valenti, a Marine who served 1969 to 1970, Lou Patti, who served in the Army from 1963 to 1964 and James Bryant, who served in the Navy in 1969.

Don and Judy Hill of Marathon watched from the sidewalk on East Main as the parade went by.

“It’s just nice they finally got around to honoring the vets,” Don Hill said.

“It was wonderful to see all the people who turned out,” Judy Hill added.

The two of them were at the parade honoring his brother-inlaw Gary Harding, who died from exposure to Agent Orange, a cancer-causing defoliant, and other classmates who died.

“We’re here for them, to represent them,” Judy Hill said.

Tom Fish of Marathon also watched the parade from the sidewalks on East Main Street. He attended the parade to honor several friends, including Gary Harding, Eugene Henry and Darrell Cameron.

Lynda Spink, the president for the American Legion Auxiliary 5th District, came to the event to support her friend Janet Elston. Elston, the American Legion Auxiliary 6th District president, helped organize the event.

Spink took a moment to remember some friends who died by writing their names on a Gone, but Not Forgotten poster on the wall of the Civic Center, where the day’s events took place: Thomas Kloster, David Ritz and Ronald Hack, friends of her and her brothers.

Lynda Spink, the president of the 5th District American Legion Auxiliary, writes down the name of a Vietnam Veteran who died on a poster remembering the soldiers.

“They’d come out to the house and play cards,” she said.

Outside the Civic Center, Robert Bertrand, a vet, got people talking while he explained and showed them about 44 flags he had flying on his truck during the parade.

He said about 22 years ago he went to an event hosted by Rolling Thunder — an advocacy group that remembers, honors and brings accountability for prisoners of war and missing in action service members. During the event, he noticed the service flags.

“I was impressed by the service flags, but I wanted to do something different,” he said.

He had 44 flags handmade with enlargements of the shoulder patches soldiers wore during the war, identifying the war fighter’s unit or command.

“It’s a remembrance issue,” Bertrand said. “It’s so people don’t forget.”