BRADLEY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, East Granby, Conn. --
My brothers are here with me today," said James F. Jordan. "They're always with me," he said.
Jordan provided a book talk and presentation during the Vietnam War 50th Anniversary Commemoration Event at Bradley Air National Guard Base and, although he detailed numerous missions and events he'd undertaken during the war, his message was simple and straightforward. "There was no I. It was always we," he said. This sentiment was echoed by all of the speakers and by many of the Vietnam-Era veterans in attendance throughout the weekend.
Thousands of guests attended the two-day event July 11-12, organized by the Central Connecticut State University History Project. PV2 Ralph Abbott, from B Co. 1-102 Inf. said he received the weekend's message, loud and clear.
"You can tell that they're all brothers. They're at home with each other," he said. Abbott and fellow 1-102nd Soldiers manned an exhibit showcasing modern mountain warfare gear and tools. They received a good reception from the older veterans, many who compared their gear from the 1960s and 70s to the modern equipment.
"I bet those young guys over there don't know what this is," said Mark Crob, who served 28 years in the Navy including service in Vietnam. Crob's exhibit, next to the 1-102nd Soldiers, showcased uniforms and gear from the Vietnam Era.
Crob held up a small metal trinket resembling a miniature folding knife. "This is a P-38," he said. Crob explained that field ration cans from the Vietnam Era required openers, and the P-38 was small enough to fit on a dog tag chain or in a wallet. "We all had to have one of these," he said.
Crob appeared to be in his element. He gave fellow veterans high fives and handshakes as his dog tags swung in the breeze. He was shirtless for both days. "Seabees don't wear shirts," he said to applause and laughter from fellow veterans
Eileen Hurst, Director of the CCSU Veterans History Project said that the official 50th anniversary commemoration period for the Vietnam War is from 2011 until 2025, and that educational and celebratory events will be ongoing in Connecticut.
"This all began by listening to the stories from veterans," she said. "We wanted to welcome them home and recognize these veterans for their service. We asked ourselves what we could do in our state," she said.
Hurst said numerous fundraisers were held and sponsors were found, and one thing led to another. Of course, there is much more to the story.
The National Veterans History Project was created in 2000 by Congress to archive the oral stories of United States veterans. The project relies on organizations, schools, community groups and the public to record and document interviews with service members. Hurst helped start the program at CCSU in 2005 and has coordinated the interviews of more than 700 Connecticut veterans.
In listening to the many stories of Vietnam veterans, many who felt that they were never truly welcomed home, Hurst said she knew that the commemoration event had to take place. She organized a planning committee, and one thing then lead to another.
Among the dozens of the event exhibits which include a VA mobile Vet Center, photo displays of KIA and MIA veterans, audio recordings from Vietnam, photos and details of Laotian Guerilla Soldiers missions and a live performance by the U.S. Coast Guard Band, the UH-1 Huey exhibit was the most popular weekend attraction.
Guests were given an opportunity to take short flights in a Huey. The crew, veteran military pilots and technicians, work for American Huey 369. The group travels across the country for military and aircraft commemorative events. The aircraft, widely associated with the Vietnam War, was the most extensively-used helicopter in the U.S. military prior to the introduction of the UH-60 Black Hawk, and was retired from active service in 2005.
Mary Light and Francis MCann waited in line for their turn to take a ride in the Huey. Both women are members of American Gold Star Mothers. Both lost their sons in Vietnam, Michael Light and James Carney. The American Gold Star Mothers, an organization of mothers who lost sons or daughters in war, also had an exhibit on display to help raise awareness about veteran issues and to bring attention to a new 'Education Center at The Wall' project, which will add a face to each of the 58,000 names on the Vietnam War Memorial.
Light and MCann along with dozens of attendees wore red ribbons with 'proudly served' printed boldly upon them, signifying their service to the country or loss of loved ones.
"It was too cold in Canada, so we couldn't go there," said Air Force veteran Anthony Skorek at the Gold Star Mothers exhibit. "We preferred Vietnam," he said, laughing. Skorek was joined by a group of fellow VVA (Vietnam Veterans of America) Norwich, Chapter 270, members.
The group agreed that they're pleased that events commemorating their service are finally taking place across the country.
"No one else welcomed us home, so we did it ourselves," said Navy veteran John Waggoner. "That's why we all have this bond," he said.
James Jordan was first interviewed by Eileen Hurst for the Veterans History project in 2014. During his interview, he discussed visiting the traveling Vietnam War Memorial in 2006 and being hurt by Marines who questioned the legitimacy of his service.
He said that that event, however, lead him to reach out to the men with whom he served, which lead to his writing his book and eventually meeting Hurst.
"Do you know what this is?" asked Jordan to audience members at the conclusion of his book presentation. He removed a dog tag chain from his pocket and something that looked like a miniature folding knife was attached to it.
"This is a P-38,"he told the audience. "We all had to have one of these," the Marine said with a smile. "Me and my brothers," he said.
The CCSU Veterans History Project welcomes all veterans to contribute their stories for national archival and preservation. For more information, visit ccsu.edu/vethistoryproject, call 860-832-2981 or email firstname.lastname@example.org