- Mar. 29, 2012 Mike General, a member of the Chapter 20 Vietnam Veterans of America, retires the colors on Wednesday. / MAX SCHULTE / staff photographer
Monroe County joined communities around the country to celebrate Vietnam Veterans Day.
Joe Peck got out of the Army in 1976. It wasn’t until 1998 that someone outside of his family thanked him for his service.
“I didn’t even know how to respond,” said Peck, 56, of Irondequoit, a Vietnam-era veteran. “I was dumbfounded.”
Decades may have passed before they were appreciated, but for Peck and other Vietnam veterans, Thursday was another small step in the right direction, as Monroe County joined communities around the country to celebrate Vietnam Veterans Day.
County Executive Maggie Brooks said it was a long-overdue day to pay tribute to men and women who served in Vietnam.
“Those who came back from the war weren’t greeted with fanfare,” said Brooks, in a news conference at Highland Park. “Today we want to fix that and say thank you to show gratitude to those who came home and to those who did not.”
March 29 was chosen because it was on that date in 1973 that U.S. troops were finally withdrawn from Vietnam.
The last Marines occupying the Southeast Asia nation left Saigon more than two years later.
“No matter how much time goes by, it’s an honor to be recognized for our service to our country,” said Chuck Macaluso, 64, of Greece, a former U.S. Marine who served in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968. “It’s never too late.”
Three million Americans served in the Vietnam War, including more than 28,000 men and women from the Rochester region, 280 of whom died in combat or who are listed as missing.
The Rochester vets who made it back have experienced varying levels of traumas as a result of the war, said Peck.
Some have trouble finding work, as 22 percent of the 1,025 veterans who sought employment services through the Veterans Outreach Center last year were Vietnam-era veterans, said Alexis Ganter, spokesperson for the VOC.
But hopefully, days like Thursday will help heal one of their wounds.
“I can live with what I did during the war, but what I can’t live with is how we were treated,” said Ken Moore, 69, of Hilton, president of the Rochester chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America.
“Today is nice.”