JOHNSTOWN - Tom Caulfield, director of Community Veterans Initiatives of Johnstown, said Thursday the Vietnam Era was among the most divisive in the nation's history.
Now his organization and others are planning a day to "applaud" the Vietnam veterans in Cambria and Somerset counties by holding a recognition ceremony on Nov. 1, 2015, the 40th anniversary of war's end.
Speaking at Johnstown's War Memorial Arena at noon Thursday, Caulfield said the recognition day is a joint venture of his organization, located in the Hiram G. Andrews Center in Johnstown, The Conemaugh Valley Veterans Association and the Vietnam Veterans of America.
(Mirror photo by Phil Ray)
Tom Caulfield talks Thursday at the War Memorial Arena in Johnstown about a new program to provide free rides for veterans on Cambria County Transit Authority buses. Caulfield, director of the Veterans Community Initiatives in Johnstown, also discussed an upcoming symposium and a Vietnam Veterans Recognition Ceremony.
The recognition day is only in the planning stages, but Caulfield predicted thousands of people would attend the event at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena because similar ceremonies in the past involving the World War II and Korean War veterans have been well-attended.
Caulfield is a veteran of Vietnam, and he brought up divisiveness of those times, from 1961-75.
Bill Davis of Johnstown, who was at the War Memorial for Caulfield's announcement, said when Vietnam veterans came back home, "they weren't greeted very well."
Sometimes there were jeers, he said.
"We were doing what we were told to do," Davis explained.
He said the Vietnam recognition day is "long overdue."
"I think it is a great day," said Thomas W. Haberkorn, president of the Vietnam Veterans of Cambria County and of the Pennsylvania State Council of the Vietnam Veterans of America Inc.
Haberkorn, who served in the Air Force for a year in Thailand and a second year in Vietnam, explained why recognition is so important to him.
It takes a lot of support to go to war, not only those backing up the soldiers on the front lines, but the families back home.
The recognition day will focus on the families as well as the veteran, he said.
Haberkorn, only 19 when he went to war, remembers those times well because he had three brothers in the service at the same time.
His mother, he said, would write a letter several times a month to her boys, but only one of the brothers would get the original. They others would get a copy. He laughed that if you got a copy you knew you were at the end of the line.
He then added that his mother would add personal comments at the bottom of the letters addressed to the individual brother.
Caulfield said Cambria County honored the World War II veterans in 2008 and the Korean War veterans last year.
The Vietnam celebration will be slightly different in that it will include Vietnam veterans from Somerset County as well, not just those from Cambria.
Vietnam was not the only issue that came up on Thursday.
Last November, the Cambria County Transit Authority decided to permit all veterans to ride the buses for free.
Rose Lucy-Noll, the manager of authority, reported that since the program went into effect, 23,000 veterans have taken advantage of the offer.
"We're proud about that," Lucy-Noll said.
She called the free-ride program a "bold move" on the part of the authority.
Caulfield also announced that a ninth consecutive Veterans Community Response Symposium will be held on Aug. 20.
The symposium is held to focus on issues applicable to veterans in this time when so many are returning from war.
Veterans suicide will be discussed in the morning at the War Memorial.
The symposium's focus will shift to veteran employment, underemployment and unemployment at the afternoon session being held at the Hiram G. Andrews Center.
Also at the center, "sexual trauma in the military" will be discussed in the evening.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.