FLORHAM PARK, NJ - Admittedly, it doesn’t happen often. Certainly, it doesn’t happen enough. But when do 150 Viet Nam Veterans, representing all veterans organizations, join together to remember, to commemorate and to enjoy the company of their comrades?
The New York Jets Football organization apparently understood that. So on Sunday Dec. 4, the NY Jets invited 150 Viet Nam Veterans to their practice facility in Florham Park. The occasion was to be honored with a 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War Commemorative pin and to simply enjoy a terrific “Welcome Home” experience.
A buffet breakfast led the morning off, which followed a “Posting of the Colors” by the Cranford NJ VFW Post #335’s Color Guard and a patriotic Pledge of Allegiance by the group. “Amazing Grace” was played meticulously by the 12 member Union County Emerald Society Pipe and Drum Corp. adding a significant degree of solemnity to the event. In keeping with that solemnity and tradition, VFW Post #335 also provided a proper MIA-POW table and empty chair in memory of those missing comrades.
The very first featured speaker, Medal of Honor recipient Jack Jacobs was welcomed with a two minute standing round of applause. Mr. Jacobs saw his meritorious action in Kien Phong Province in 1968 while serving as an assistant battalion adviser to a South Vietnamese army unit. His moving remarks opened humorously on his lack of height, “which saved my life”, and later on the patriotic aspect of being a Vietnam Veteran and the need to be proud of the experience.
Following Mr. Jacobs remarks, Major General Troy Kok head of the 99th Regional Support Command at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, talked emotionally on the sacrifices that we as veterans have made and the positive consequences of our military experiences. Both speeches were met with tumultuous applause from a grateful audience of men and women Vets.
Following the speeches, a few words of thanks from the General Manager of the NY Jets, Michael Maccagnan were said and commemorative pins were handed out with a handshake and sincere “thank you” to each and every Vietnam Veteran in attendance. Afterwards all were invited to watch a brief practice on the outside practice turf by the Jets squad followed by a meet and greet autograph session with the players.
But the morning was really more than that.
“I met a guy I served with in the 173rd Airborne, that I haven’t seen in 45 years” said Viet Nam Vet Billy Lueddeke of Kenilworth. “Just that, seeing him again made it an unbelievable day for me and brought back memories I haven’t thought of in years”. Another Vet talked of the special emotions he felt just being in the presence of so many who shared his experiences, “just chatting with the guys at the table about where they were and what they did made it for me, I was truly grateful for this day”, said Mike Chmiel, Army Vet, of Cranford.
A great deal of socializing certainly took place during the breakfast. The joint comradery, the coming together of those who lived “Nam” and made it back to the “World”, while remembering those souls who did not, made this a special experience and a remarkable day.