By Janee Law
John Schrank, of Dix Hills, was among nearly 1,000 Vietnam veterans honored at Vietnam Veteran Commemoration Ceremony on Sunday.
“It was quite moving,” Schrank, 68, a veteran staff sergeant in the Air Force, said. And it was also “long overdue,” he said.
“When I came back from Vietnam nobody thanked anybody, a lot of guys didn’t even want to say they went to Vietnam because we were hated for our government's mistakes,” Schrank said. “They made the policy, we enforce it as Americans and we took wrath of hostility when we came back home.”
Now, when the Vietnam veterans come across each other, they make sure to welcome each other home.
“When one veteran sees another veteran, we always say ‘welcome home’ because, for the longest time, nobody did,” Schrank said. “We left at different times with different people and it wasn’t like we came home and got honored for our service. We just came home and went on with our lives.”
Yet, when thinking back on the time he spent serving his country, he “wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”
Schrank, who served from 1966-1970 as a weapons specialist for aircrafts, added that Sunday ceremony, which was hosted by Nassau Executive Edward Mangano, was moving because it honored those who were killed in Vietnam.
In accordance with a United States Department of Defense initiative, the commemoration, which took place at the Museum of American Armor in Old Bethpage, honored the 50th anniversary of the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam.
The ceremony honored the courage, sacrifice and devotion to duty and country of “all those who answered the call to serve during the longest war in U.S. history,” Mangano said in his speech.
Mangano continued, “You are all true American heroes and will always have a special place in Nassau County… I am truly humbled to be in the presence of so many great men and women.”
Nearly 60,000 Americans were killed in the Vietnam War, Mangano said, and more than 1,7000 Americans who served in Vietnam and are listed as missing in action.
Mangano said those Americans will never be forgotten, the sacrifices made by soldiers “remind us that freedom is not free. There is a price for freedom and that is paid so we can enjoy the freedoms that we do.”
Orlando Peluso, of Huntington, who served in the Army as a howitzer specialist from 1964-1966, was another veteran honored during the ceremony. He said the ceremony very nice and, and agreed that “it was about time.”
Peluso, 75, said he never spoke about his service in the Vietnam until 40 years after he returned home, added that “it was a tough thing to swallow.”
Anthony Calabro, of Huntington, who was also honored, added that serving in the Army as a specialist in radar was the best experience of his life.
“I probably would do it again, even today,” Calabro, 68, who served from 1968-1970, said. “I was very proud that I had done my part and went when I was called and I still feel that way.”
Each veteran at the ceremony received a presidential proclamation and a commemorative pin, with the inscription, “ A Grateful Nation Thanks and Honors You.” The pins were distributed by representatives from the American Legion, AmVets, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Rolling Thunder, United Veterans Organization, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans of America and Vietnam War Veterans Association.
Also delivering speeches at the ceremony were Chapter President of Blue Star Mothers of America Lisa Ryan and U.S. Army Lt. Col. Matthew Balint.
Other veterans hailing from the Town of Huntington who were honored at the ceremony are: Vincent Maisto, of East Northport; Francis McGuire, of Huntington Station; Clarke Paulsen, of Huntington; Joel Silver, of Melville; and James Verdi, of Huntington Station.