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Remembering Joseph Oreto's service and sacrifice for Memorial Day

On May 29, Carroll County will mark its 150th continuous annual observance of Memorial Day with a parade on Main Street in Westminster and ceremonies at the Westminster Cemetery. The annual tradition was first organized by Mary Bostwick Shellman on May 30, 1868, after the Civil War.

Near the cemetery, the Carroll County Maryland Vietnam Memorial Park at the corner of Willis and Court Street, next to the historic Courthouse was dedicated on May 28, 1990. Ever since then many of us who served, stateside, as I did, or were deployed, have gathered there after the Memorial Day Services at the Westminster Cemetery. There we pay homage to our friends, colleagues, and loved ones from Carroll County who made the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam, and to tell their stories for them.

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Of the 19 names on the cold black monument at the Carroll County Vietnam Memorial, two served in the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR) — known as the Black Horse Regiment. The famed unit of the U. S. Army traces its beginnings back to March 11, 1901, and has seen combat in the Philippine-American War, World War II, the Vietnam War, and in the Middle East.

The Black Horse Regiment first arrived in South Vietnam at Vung Tau on Sept. 7, 1966. It was engaged in heavy combat and took heavy casualties throughout the balance of the war.

Joseph Anthony Oreto was one of 730 members of the ACR lost in Vietnam. He was 21 years old when he died for our country on April 13, 1969.

Oreto was stationed at the Bien Hoa Air Base, about 16 miles above Saigon and killed in Tay Ninh Province up along the Cambodian border, during Operation Toan Thang II. Otherwise known as the defense of Saigon, the objective was a search and clear operation to discourage North Vietnamese Army campsites and rocket positions within striking distance of Saigon.

Oreto was a Washington, D.C. police cadet when he was drafted into the Army in January 1968. He was deployed to Vietnam in November 1968, right after he married Georgia Croft, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. George Croft, Westminster, in October 1968. According to a Carroll County Times article on May 28, 1989, "He was against killing of any kind, but felt he should do his duty," a relative said at the time of his death.

After his death, he was awarded the Silver Star, "for gallantry in action while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an armed hostile force on 13 April 1969 while serving as Squad Leader with the Aero Rifle Platoon, Air Cavalry Troop, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, in the Republic of Vietnam."

"On this date while conducting a bomb damage assessment in a heavily-fortified enemy base camp, the platoon suddenly came under intense machine gun and antitank rocket fire from a well-concealed and well-entrenched hostile force. Sergeant Oreto and his lead squad were immediately pinned down in an open area directly in front of the enemy positions.

"Realizing the desperate situation he and his men were in, Sergeant Oreto single-handedly assaulted the nearest enemy bunker. While the hostile fire was concentrated on him, his men were able to maneuver into more secure positions.

"As he prepared to throw a hand grenade into the enemy bunker, he was fatally wounded by hostile fire. Sergeant Oreto's outstanding courage, unwavering devotion to duty and deep concern for the welfare of his men were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army."

Today, Joe Oreto is remembered on the national Vietnam Memorial Wall on panel 27W — row 076. This Memorial Day I hope to see you and your family at the Westminster Memorial Day Ceremonies and over at the Vietnam Memorial afterwards. As strangers recite numbers, historical facts and statistics, I say a prayer for our country and all the "Joe Oretos" who have protected us in the past.

They are not just names on a cold black piece of granite. They all young men and women who loved and were loved, who laughed and cried, and had their dreams and bright futures cut short so we could have ours.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. Email him at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.

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