BELLEVILLE, NJ — American Legion Post No. 105 on Washington Avenue in Belleville held a ceremony for National Vietnam Veterans Day on March 29, at which the Belleville Historical Society made a presentation of flags that have flown over Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Md., to the local veterans organizations.
“The Vietnam War is a story of service members of different backgrounds, colors and creeds who came together to complete a daunting mission,” read the proclamation made by President Barack Obama in 2012 establishing National Vietnam Veterans Day. “In one of the war’s most profound tragedies, many of these men and women came home to be shunned or neglected — to face treatment unbefitting their courage and a welcome unworthy of their example. We must never let this happen again.”
In the war, which officially lasted from Nov. 1, 1955, to April 30, 1975, more than 2.7 million Americans were deployed to Southeast Asia. The conflict resulted in 58,318 killed or missing-in-action Americans.
“But today isn’t about statistics — it’s about giving those men and women what they deserved,” said Post 105 2nd Vice Commander Scott Higgins, who gave the keynote speech.
Honoring those who made it back, American Legion 105 held a short commemoration on March 29. With more than 30 veterans and friends of Post 105 at the event, Commander Joe Cobianchi called the remembrance to order with a salute to the flag, followed by Higgins’ speech, in which he discussed the negative manner with which returning veterans were met.
“They weren’t greeted by people waving flags, parades, handshakes, hugs and kisses,” Higgins said. “And now, these brave soldiers, who went to war for their country … we wish to honor you and thank you.”
Belleville Historical Society President Mike Perrone took the podium following Higgins’ tribute, telling the stories of the four flags he brought to the remembrance with him that flew over Fort McHenry, which is now a national park that sits at the mouth of Baltimore Harbor. The historical society brought these flags to Maryland to fly on the Fort McHenry flagpole that stands where Francis Scott Key was motivated to write “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
On Sept. 13 and 14, 1814, during the War of 1812, Major George Armistead raised a gigantic American flag to fly over Fort McHenry, as the British were attempting to besiege Baltimore. This sight inspired Key to write what became the United States’ national anthem.
“We feel honored to be able to go down to the fort, have our flags flown and pay our respects to Major Armistead,” Perrone said of the historical society’s trip to Fort McHenry.
The historical society then presented a flag to each of the veterans organizations present, in honor of all Vietnam veterans. Cobianchi accepted the flag for American Legion Post 105, Post Commander Darryl Root for VFW 493 in Nutley, Post Adjutant Henry Deltosto for Legion Post 70 in Nutley, and Post 105 Vice Commander Walter LaBar on behalf of DAV Chapter 22. A special 15-star flag was also presented to historian and author Anthony Buccino, who has written about Belleville’s sons who served in Vietnam.
After the event, Algieri’s Pizza in Belleville catered a reception, which concluded with a custom-made cake with a Vietnam Service Medal ribbon decorated on it made by SAL member Vinny Ferriole. The cake was cut by American Legion Essex County Commander Terrence Scantlebury.