Some of the Vietnam veterans were infirm and all were not many years away from infirmity Saturday at the Janesville VFW, as they walked arm-in-arm with young girls in prom-style dresses to receive the medals honoring them for their service.
No one pointed out the irony that their welcome home 40 years ago didn't include the girls of that time decked out in finery to usher them back into the civilian life of parties and proms and fancy outfits they'd left to fight in the jungle.
"It's about time," said Russ Cornelius of Coalport, an Army sergeant who served in grave registration overseas.
Mirror photos by Gary M. Baranec
Army Vietnam veterans Russ Cornelius of Coalport, Bill Hewitt of Coalport, Ron Copp of Irvona and Bon Monahan of Coalport (from foreground to back) participate in a ceremony at VFW?Post 6321 in Smithmill on Saturday.
Charles Dilson of Janesville, an Army veteran of the Vietnam War, returns to his seat after receiving a medal from Rep. Camille “Bud” George, D-Houtzdale. Dilson was escorted by Yvonne Bush, 19, of Dubois, a member of the Clearfield County Fair Queen Court.
His friend Bill Hewitt of Coalport, a specialist in an infantry division, said the same.
When they returned to the U.S., both were treated "like s-t" - though not at home in Coalport, they said.
Both heard "baby killer" - Cornelius when he got off the train in Altoona, Hewitt when was working in New Jersey.
Eight-five Clearfield County vets and their families received medals, and 47 more who either couldn't make it or didn't learn about the event in time will receive them, according to Rep. Camille "Bud" George, D-Houtzdale.
Previously, he honored vets of World War II and Korea.
"Nobody has been forgotten like the Vietnam [vets]," said George afterward, having finished his own dinner, eaten from a compartmentalized Styrofoam plate in the crowded post hall. "They certainly have every right" to such accolades now, he said.
Still, they appreciated it.
"I commend Camille George," said Jerry Deao of Ginter, who served in the Air Force in survival life support.
He "never had a good time" overseas, because it was "stress all the time," he said. It was "now, now, now," and "go, go, go" almost constantly, he said.
And after he came home, there was a period when he was "kind of screwed up psychologically," he said. Too often he was "ripping and tearing." He was "disruptive," said his wife Debbie. "It was a way of releasing some of his anxiety."
It was a few years before he settled down, she said.
Then there was Deao's cousin John Deao, also of Ginter.
He's in a wheelchair, hardly able to walk, 100-percent disabled due to diabetes and the effects of agent orange, which he worked around day-after-day as a maintenance crew chief for the Air Force.
It has cost him a toe and within a few years may cost him his legs below the knees.
His wife Diana, whom he met 16 years ago while working in road construction in Fayette County when he visited the diner where she was a waitress, needs to wash and cream his feet and their wounds every day.
But he's not bitter.
That's because of his Ukrainian-Greek Catholic faith, Diana said.
"What else can you do?" he said Saturday evening at a dinner at the Janesville VFW. "I thank the good Lord every day I wake up."
Likewise, he didn't find his service overseas unbearable or his coming home to be a problem.
He said the dinner Saturday was "wonderful."
It's not just the vets who suffered, but their families, George said.
Does Diana mind the daily ministrations to keep the ravages of diabetes at bay?
"He's my husband," she said. "I do what I have to do."
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.