MOUNT JEWETT — More than 30 area Vietnam War era veterans were recognized Thursday in a Vietnam Pinning Ceremony at the Mount Jewett American Legion Home Post #574, co-sponsored by the office of U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey and the McKean County Office of Veteran Affairs.
In a press release announcing this event, Toomey said, "Our Commonwealth's Vietnam veterans bravely served this country, and it's an honor for my office to honor them for their service. For over half a century, many of these veterans have been unsung heroes."
In his welcoming remarks, McKean County Veteran Affairs Director Zach Pearson thanked all those veterans who served in Vietnam.
Living U.S. veterans who served on active duty in the nation's armed forces during the period of Nov. 1, 1955, to May 15, 1975, regardless of location are eligible for this pin.
The Mount Jewett American Legion Post Honor Guard led the presentation of the colors.
The Smethport Area High School Show Choir, directed by Matt Bailey, sang the National Anthem, and this was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.
Post 574 Commander and Chaplain Pat Eaton offered the invocation.
Robert DeSousa, Toomey's state director and a colonel in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, attended the event on the senator's behalf and acted as master of ceremonies.
He described the symbolism of the lapel pins that were to be presented to each veteran. "The eagle on this special coin represents the United States of America and wreath stands for victory, integrity and strength.
The six stars represent our six allies who served with us and one another: Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea and Thailand."
On the back of the coin, is the embossed message: "A grateful Nation Thanks and Honors You," closest to the heart of the wearer. The official name of the commemoration is included, which reminds each veteran that this is a national initiative, and this pin is the country's permanent memento of thanks.
According to DeSousa, Toomey brought his banking and finance background with him when he was elected senator in 2010, but he also had an interest in veterans' issues, such as healthcare.
"The senator also soon realized there was no special day set aside to honor the Vietnam veterans,” DeSousa said. “He co-sponsored bipartisan legislation that permanently designates March 29 as Vietnam War Veterans Day that became law even though it is late.”
In 2014, Toomey also introduced another bipartisan bill that gained unanimous Senate approval and changed the name of the Woodland Avenue Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Philadelphia after Corporal Michael Crescenz, Philadelphia's only Medal of Honor recipient of the Vietnam War era, DeSousa noted. "This is only the third time VA hospitals have been named after veterans. The others are Audie Murphy in World War II and Alvin York of World War I."
As a point of personal privilege, DeSousa described the patriotic send-off he and his National Guard Unit received in Allentown when they were deployed in 2007.
"We were met and encouraged by Vietnam veterans and greeted by signs and words of 'God Bless You,’” he said. “The local and state police honored us with hand salutes enroute to the airport. Then, at Bangor, Maine, veterans and citizens were respectful to us."
DeSousa congratulated the veterans as Pearson presented them with the pins in this the 35th pinning ceremony. Also offering thanks and congratulations were Eaton and McKean County Commissioner Carol Duffy. A member of Toomey's Erie district office announced the names.
With the playing of the Armed Forces Medley, which featured the anthems of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard, veterans stood when their respective service's anthem was played.
The Mount Jewett American Legion Honor Guard retired the colors before Eaton offered the benediction.