Several veterans who attended the Veterans Day ceremony in Havre de Grace Monday had not heard about the event in advance, but they stopped to listen to speakers honor veterans and their service to the country.
"I came by and saw the celebration," Steve Ariosa, of Charlestown in Cecil County, said.
The Vietnam War veteran, who was wearing a faded green cap with the words "Vietnam Veteran" on the front, was in Havre de Grace Monday for a doctor's appointment and came across the ceremony in Millard Tydings Park.
The ceremony was put on by members of American Legion Post 47 in Havre de Grace; featured speakers included Post Commander Ronald "Buddy" Lilly, Mayor Wayne Dougherty and Lt. Col. Lance Newby, of the Maryland National Guard, a Havre de Grace native.
"Though it is a somber day of reflection and homage it truly is a day to celebrate as well," Dougherty said, speaking from the park's gazebo to an audience of about 100 people. "We celebrate freedom as we honor all who have served to make freedom possible for us and to extend those freedoms abroad."
Newby, who resides in Conowingo and who served in Afghanistan during 2011 and 2012, working to train members of the Afghan National Army, spoke of the support the public and government has given veterans of his generation.
He said the public support, which he called "a daily happening," includes ceremonies to welcome him and his fellow troops home, handshakes and thanks for their service, people paying for their meals at restaurants and being upgraded to first class when flying.
Newby said government officials have also improved programs to help troops make the transition to the home front, and to treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
"It took a long time for this nation to realize that PTSD was real," he said.
Newby noted the support for veterans was late in coming for those who served during Vietnam, but it has increased since the 9/11 attacks of 2001.
"Finally, after 50 years, I'm proud of my service in Vietnam," Ariosa said.
Ariosa served as an Army military policeman in Vietnam during 1968 and 1969.
He said veterans of that war were not welcomed by the American public when they returned.
"I was ashamed to put my uniform on because people were mean to us . . . it took years before I felt comfortable publicizing my service," Ariosa said.
He said things changed for him after 9/11 as Americans showed their support for veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Ariosa began getting involved in veterans organizations and wearing his cap.
He spoke during parts of the ceremony with Korean War veteran Jim West, of North East, who was also walking through the park when he spotted the ceremony.
He served in Korea from 1949 – before the war began – to 1955, a couple of years after the war ended,
He was a member of the 1st Marine Division and scouted behind enemy lines to obtain information on Chinese and North Korean troop movements to report back to the division command.
"I was called a ghost over there for lack of a better name," West said after the ceremony.
He recalled living with winter temperatures that dipped as low as 70 degrees below zero, and said he spotted three prisoner-of-war-camps where Americans were being held while on a scouting mission.
He said the prisoners were kept in wire cages that resembled dog kennels.
"I knew the guys in them wire kennels would freeze to death when the cold weather came," West said.
West suggested to his commanders that troops attack the enemy troops when they were having their meal to catch them off guard.
A combined force of Marines and soldiers attacked the enemy and liberated about 150 American prisoners, following West's advice.
Earl Kelly, 91, of Aberdeen, came to the park Monday with his daughter, Millie Sarvas, of West Virginia.
He was a member of I Company of the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment in the 101st Airborne Division.
Kelly parachuted into Normandy ahead of the D-Day landings in France in 1944, fought his way through northern France and the Netherlands during the ill-fated Operation Market Garden in 1944, and survived the Battle of the Bulge and the German siege of American troops at Bastogne in Belgium.
He fought in the same battles as the members of Easy Company, part of the 506th regiment and made famous in the book and 2001 miniseries "Band of Brothers."
"He made me see [Band of Brothers] so I could see exactly what it was like," Sarvas said of her father.
Sarvas said her father came back from the war traumatized, having been wounded three times and escaping from captivity by the Germans.
"Run like hell," Kelly said when asked how he escaped.
Lilly, the Legion post commander and a Vietnam veteran, said he was able to handle his "issues" when he returned home, but the events of 9/11 brought the trauma back to him.
He said he dealt with it by volunteering at the mental health center at the Perry Point VA Medical Center in Perryville, working with veterans of Iraq.
"The experience of volunteering will allow you to focus on the needs of others, and random acts of kindness will give you that positive that will cancel any negative in a given day," Lilly said. "So volunteer as often as you can; it's great therapy."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun