Martin C. Evans

Finally, A Day for Vietnam Vets

In Uncategorized on March 27, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Hugh Reyes, of Uniondale, listened as names of NY Vietnam War dead were read aloud. (Newsday photo)

Hugh Reyes spent six months as an infantryman in Vietnam in 1966. The Uniondale resident has spent much of the rest of his life feeling his service there was mostly misunderstood or forgotten.

Yesterday, Reyes and hundreds of fellow Vietnam veterans converged at a chilly Vietnam Memorial Plaza in downtown Manhattan to mark what organizers said was the first public celebration of Vietnam Veterans Day in New York. In 2008, Gov. David Paterson signed a bill designating each March 29 – the anniversary of the 1973 withdrawal of U.S. troops from Saigon – in honor of the 3 million Americans who served in Southeast Asia during our nation’s longest war.

“To me this is important for the camaraderie,” said Reyes, 66, a retired New York City policeman. “We were forgotten about for so many years.”

Yesterday’s commemoration included a reading of the names of the 1,741 service members from New York City who were killed during the Vietnam War, as well as the 88 city residents who have been killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, plus the names of many Long Islanders who served.

Organizers said momentum for creating an observance specifically for Vietnam veterans has built since 1985, when veterans marched from Brooklyn to the site of the current memorial wall to mark the 10th anniversary of the war’s end.

More than 58,000 U.S. troops were killed and 304,000 were wounded during the war, which left America emotionally battered and economically drained.

GIs who returned often were rejected by an American populous that was tired of war and frustrated by defeat. Many also battled internal demons brought on by their witness of the savagery of war.

Reyes said after returning from Vietnam, he slept in his shoes for more than a year, unable to shake the fear that he would need to flee attack. He avoided family picnics because parks reminded him of Vietnam’s battlefields.

He said one of the most difficult things for him to cope with emotionally is knowing he had been involved in the deaths of children caught between insurgents and U.S. troops.

“We would hear women and children screaming in a village we were taking, and by the time we were finished with the village, everything would be quiet,” said Reyes, who said it was more than 40 years before he sought psychological help, in part because he feared he would lose his police officer’s job if his superiors knew of his treatment. “I stopped trying to talk to people about it years ago.”

John Rezin, 63, a former Navy sailor living in West Babylon, came to the afternoon ceremony in part to honor Robert Packard, 20, a childhood friend from Queens who was killed during the war.

He stood near the memorial’s smokey green glass wall, at the edge of a crowd of graying men, and listened as bagpipes played a mournful tune.

“These guys on the wall are true heroes,” he said. “They’ll never be forgotten.”

  1. God bless the Vietnam Vets. I wish I had been at the Memorial today… I lost a cousin in the Viet Nam War… Sgt. Steven Edward Collier. He is always in our hearts..

  2. My father is a Vietnam Veteran and the stories he told me about when he returned home before I went into the service was so unbelievable. I’m very honored to have a father who served, and I’m honored to tell others he is a Vietnam Veteran.

    We owe a lot to these Veterans, because they have stood up and spoken out and today military members and myself have greater benefits and have gained the respect and understanding from our country men.

    I wrote a blog myself, because it was the least I could do to give them the recognition they deserve.

    Thank You Vietnam Veterans.

  3. […] Finally, A Day for Vietnam Vets Hugh Reyes spent six months as an infantryman in Vietnam in 1966. The Uniondale resident has spent much of the rest of his life feeling his service there was mostly misunderstood or forgotten. […]

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