Abingdon resident Ron Beall, who served in the Army from 1963 to 1966, and his wife Betty were both emotional as he received the a lapel pin honoring him for his service and a salute from the Rev. Lewis Geigan.
“It’s good to be recognized after all these years,” said Beall, one of more than 100 Vietnam War-era veterans honored for their service with a lapel pin and a warm “welcome home” Saturday during an event at University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air.
Officials with the health system partnered with the United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration to put on the event Saturday.
The Vietnam War Commemoration is a program of the Secretary of Defense to recognize the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War — it runs from Memorial Day of 2012 through Veterans Day in 2025, according to the program website, https://www.vietnamwar50th.com.
People who served in any branch of the armed forces or the reserves from Nov. 1, 1954, to May 15, 1975, anywhere in the world, were eligible to receive a lapel pin, according to Allen Siegel, director of spiritual care services for UM-Upper Chesapeake Health.
Siegel said 105 veterans, or family members who accepted on their behalf, received lapel pins as well as documents associated with the pin Saturday. The event lasted six hours.
“We’re honored and humbled to be able to give that to them,” Siegel said.
The veterans, either alone or accompanied by a spouse, walked into the Chesapeake Conference Center at the hospital, were greeted and then walked forward as Siegel announced their name, rank and branch of service.
The veteran received the pin and documents in an envelope from a volunteer with the hospital’s spiritual care program — a group that includes local American Legion post chaplains — prayed with the spiritual care volunteer if they desired and posed for photos.
Siegel noted the pinning at Upper Chesapeake is part of an ongoing initiative in the UCH system to provide pins to Vietnam War-era veterans who are hospital patients, their families or health system employees.
He said more than 450 people received pins during the past six months, not including those who were recognized Saturday.
“In the course of their visit, if [staff] discover they are a Vietnam War-era veteran they bestow this pin at the [patient’s] bedside,” Siegel said.
‘A long overdue welcome’
Beall, a specialist fifth class, said he was not deployed to Vietnam but served in South Korea.
Other units that were stationed in Korea did go to Vietnam, and he recalled a fellow solider and husband of a high school friend, Capt. John LeMay, died in Vietnam. Beall said he has viewed LeMay’s name on the wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Beall said he “didn’t experience any negative problems” when he arrived back in the U.S. after his service, which ended in 1966 before opposition to the Vietnam War became widespread among Americans.
Geigan, chaplain of the Bernard L. Tobin American Legion Post 128 in Aberdeen and all other Legion posts in Harford County, said he had heard veterans’ stories of having to change out of their uniforms when they returned home, to avoid being spit on or called “baby killers” by antiwar protesters.
The Bealls then gathered with Geigan and other chaplains for a brief prayer after Ron Beall’s pinning.
Geigan called Saturday’s event “a long-overdue welcome.”
“This is bringing healing to the people,” he said.
Navy veterans and best friends Larry Harrow, of the Maywood community north of Bel Air, and Charles Schmitt, of Anne Arundel County, received pins Saturday.
Harrow, 72, was in the Navy from 1967 to 1969. He said he was a yeoman second class and served in the Caribbean and Mediterranean Seas. He was assigned to COMPHIBRON 4, an amphibious assault command unit.
Schmitt, also 72, was in the Navy from 1966 to 1970. The fire control technician-guns did go to Vietnam and served on the destroyer USS Higbee, which he noted was the only combatant ship named for a woman at the time. The vessel was named for Lenah Higbee, one of the first 20 members of the Navy Nurse Corps, established in 1908. She was promoted to superintendent and was the first woman to earn the Navy Cross for her service during World War I, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command website.
Schmitt declined to talk about his time in Vietnam or the atmosphere when he returned home. He described Saturday’s event as “cool,” noting that “we never got a welcome home.”
“This was cool, this was special and it was appreciated,” he said.
‘Kind of a strange career’
Bryce Hardy, 82, of Fallston, served in the Air Force from 1956 to 1961. The airman first class was not deployed to Vietnam, but he was on other key frontlines of the Cold War between the U.S. and the Communist Soviet Union.
He was assigned to Hahn Air Base in West Germany from January 1957 to January 1960. His primary job was as a cashier in the accounting office, giving Air Force personnel their bimonthly pay, or in some cases, final pay to widows of pilots who died in crashes.
He was also assigned to a strike team providing base security during alerts, which he said seemed to happen “every time we turned around.” That meant he had to grab his M1 rifle and ammunition pouches and head to a designated watch area.
“I joined the Air Force but I ended up being in the Army,” he joked.
Hahn was home to multiple units responsible for launching missiles — which could be nuclear armed — from either the ground or aircraft. Hardy cited the 701st Tactical Missile Wing, the first unit of its type in the Air Force, as a unit based there.
The late-1950s and early ‘60s were a time of heightened tensions between the U.S. and Soviets — Hardy recalled then-Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev threatening to kick U.S. military forces out of Germany, which was divided between the Communist East Germany and West Germany, a federal republic.
“The whole ‘58 to ‘59 period was really tense, like psychological war,” Hardy said.
He spent August to November of 1958 on temporary duty at a secret U.S. base in Turkey, from where U2 spyplanes took off for missions over the Soviet Union. Hardy said he was also part of a security strike team while there.
“It was a secret base at the time,” he recalled. “Nobody knew where the U2 was coming from.”
His final assignment, from February 1960 to March 1961, was in Southern California. He was part of an honor guard with duties such as performing on a silent drill team and appearing at local funerals, parades and opening ceremonies of community events.
“I had kind of a strange career,” Hardy said.
Hardy said he knew people who served in Vietnam, including a good friend who was in the Army and died on Memorial Day of 1968, and a brother of his brother-in-law, who was wounded in action.
“It’s quite an honor to receive that pin,” said Hardy, who noted he served in the military “for my country more than anything else, just being a patriot.”