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Vietnam veterans get 'long overdue thank you' at fairgrounds

Army veteran Ronald Deavers stood Saturday with his son and grandson over a large map of Vietnam, surveying a blank space near Ho Chi Minh City.

The 140-foot-long "Tour of Duty Map" of Southeast Asia left space for vets to write messages at the LZ Maryland tribute to Vietnam War veterans at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium.

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The event, which continues Sunday, offers exhibits that include the map, 1,017 chairs representing each Marylander killed in the war, a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington and a Huey helicopter from the war.

It also provided an opportunity for veterans to discuss their experiences with their families over the Father's Day weekend.

"I wanted to bring my children here to give them an idea what it was like," said Deavers, of Sykesville. He served from 1968 to 1969 on a "Duster," a self-propelled anti-aircraft gun system, and was sent all over South Vietnam during his tour of duty, he said as he walked across the map.

Deavers' son Jesse said his father, like many Vietnam veterans, kept his experiences to himself. "Vietnam veterans never have gotten much recognition," he said. But he said he wanted to attend the event with his father and his 10-year-old son, Cole, to learn about what his father had seen.

Because of the war's divisiveness at home, for a long time, "all that we had was each other," Deavers said of veterans.

The weekend event is the culmination of a project by Maryland Public Television, which began researching Vietnam veterans from the state for the documentary "Maryland Vietnam War Stories", produced by Ken Day, said Tom Williams, an MPT spokesman. The three-part series, which first aired last month, included interviews with 260 veterans.

In addition to the documentary and this weekend's event, the station also developed a traveling exhibit that includes items from the war and will continue to be showcased at libraries and other venues across the state. The project has included an educational component, with veterans visiting schools to discuss their experiences with students.

"This is a long overdue thank-you," Williams said.

For years, he said, many Vietnam veterans were not acknowledged and did not discuss their experiences. Williams mentioned one who appears in the documentary and recounts how he was told to take his uniform off on his way home to avoid being harassed by anti-war protesters.

"It took a long time for these guys to open up," he said.

Gov. Larry Hogan, who also attended the event, said it was a reminder of the costs of the war and "the immense cost of freedom."

"War is never popular and the Vietnam War was certainly no exception but in no way does that diminish the honorable service and the incredible sacrifice of the brave men and women who served there," he said. "Our brave men and women have given more than any of us can ever fully know."

At the event, Jim Richardson, who served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam, and his son, Brad, a member of the Air Force Judge Advocate General's Corps, provided free legal service to veterans.

Richardson said he hoped the event would help bring awareness to veterans, who can often be forgotten.

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Richardson said he had a less traumatic experience than many others who served in Vietnam, but his son said he still has not discussed it much. But Richardson was interviewed for the MPT documentary.

"I think it will lead to some healing," he said.

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