Carroll County Times

Float honors sacrifice of Vietnam veterans

Many veterans of the Vietnam War feel that they were never welcomed home.

According to Ron Hollingsworth, a 20-year Army veteran who served two tours in Vietnam, the men and women returning from active duty did not expect the harassment and humiliation that came from serving during a politically and socially controversial war.

Over the years, he said, Vietnam veterans learned to fade into the background and became comfortable not drawing attention to themselves.

This year, however, Hollingsworth and other members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 467 in Westminster decided that it was time to encourage Vietnam veterans to stop blending in.

"If you're not going to do it now, you're never going to do it," Hollingsworth said.

The VFW organized the inclusion of the first-ever float in the Westminster Memorial Day Parade for Vietnam veterans, and Hollingsworth said that he was surprised by the number that attended - more than half a dozen. Only two or three had committed to coming as of Monday morning.

"I thought it was quite an honor to have an individual float," said Roger "Gil" Muse, an Army veteran who received a Purple Heart for an injury received in Vietnam.

"We were kind of shunned in the beginning, when the war was not supported by the people," Muse said. "When I came home, they told me to take my uniform off in the airport and wear civilian clothes."

While approximately 250 soldiers were killed each week, they were often not the headlines in the news, according to Mike "Maddog" Sater, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam. The headlines were about student protests, burning draft cards and young people crossing the border into Canada to avoid being drafted.

Sater currently works as assistant adjutant with the Maryland chapter of Disabled American Veterans. He spoke at a Tribute to the Vietnam Veteran held at the Westminster Vietnam Memorial following the parade and ceremony at the Westminster Cemetery.

"Vietnam started out as a conflict and it remained a conflict," he said. "It was not a war."

Sater said that unlike World War I, World War II and the Korean War, soldiers deployed to Vietnam trained in eight-week increments with different comrades, and assignments were often shuffled around so that the men and women they served with were virtual strangers.

"Some of you remember what it was like to be asked to go to a place and to fight with strangers," he said, calling the experience "lonely."

"We were called and we answered the call," Hollingsworth said. "We did our best only to come home and be ridiculed. Criticized."

Thomas Williams, the post commander for the VFW, said he missed the Vietnam War by one year. The war ended in 1975 and he became eligible for service in 1976.

Consequently, Williams was in the U.S. witnessing the protests and the treatment veterans received on their return. Coming from a military family, Williams was appalled at the lack of respect shown to members of the military.

Williams would later serve in the U.S. Navy and has been the post commander of the VFW for nine years.

"I made it my life to help these guys," he said.

Now, according to Hollingsworth, Vietnam veterans are passing away at a greater rate and an earlier age than veterans of World War II did following its conclusion.

One cause, he said, is the lasting effects of Agent Orange, a chemical defoliant used to strip portions of rural Vietnam of vegetation which the Viet Cong forces used for cover. More than one dozen diseases have been linked to exposure to Agent Orange, according to Hollingsworth.

"Memorials are great," he said. "They don't take the place of an acknowledgment from a grateful public."