Legion to host event honoring Vietnam veterans

Legion to host event honoring Vietnam veterans

(March 28, 2014) The American Legion Synepuxent Post #166 will again host its Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day tomorrow, Saturday, at 2308 Philadelphia Avenue.

President of the Ocean City chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America Nelson Kelly, who fought in the Tet Offensive, stands with wife June at the American Legion Synepuxent Post #166 on Philadelphia Avenue. The American Legion with the VVA will host its annual “welcome home day” for Vietnam veterans this Saturday from 1-3 p.m. (Clara Vaughn | Ocean City Today)

The same date in 1973 marked the official departure of the last U.S. troops from Vietnam and is celebrated nationwide as Vietnam Veterans Day. Last year, more than 60 veterans and their family members attended the local event.

The new Ocean City Chapter #1091 of the Vietnam Veterans of America will attend the welcome home event, which takes place from 1-3 p.m. tomorrow.

As its President Nelson Kelly explained, the day remains significant for the veterans.

“When one veteran meets another veteran from Vietnam, the big thing they say is, ‘Welcome home,’ because there weren’t a lot of ‘welcome homes’ for us,” Kelly said.

He is one of hundreds of thousands who left his home at age 18 when his draft number was called, in 1966 in Kelly’s case. He completed basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., and Fort Sill, Okla., before shipping out with his company.

But for Kelly, the struggle started before ever stepping foot in the warzone.

“I remember leaving Oakland, California, on a ship, going under the Golden Gate Bridge — water flat as ice — and I got sea sick,” he said. “The only thing sicker than me on that ship was the mascot, a mule.”

After a month of seasickness, Kelly arrived and became one of a four-man crew among the U.S. Army Unit Dusters, the group that operated tank-like vehicles with open turrets.

The anti-aircraft vehicles also served as perimeter defense for base camps and guided convoys across the country. Kelly’s was the first unit to guide a convoy 40 miles safely to the city of Hue, where intense fighting raged for more than three weeks during the Tet Offensive, he said.

“It was utter chaos,” Kelly said. “We started out with 150 personnel. We had probably 120 when we got there.”

Two weeks after that battle, after 11 months of service, Kelly was finally slated to return home.

“They called it ‘the real world’ because where we were wasn’t real,” he said.

After landing in Fort Lewis, Wash., he returned to the only town he knew before the war, Baltimore, at the age of 20. But “we didn’t fit in with most people. A lot of the Vietnam veterans were friends and we’d travel together,” Kelly said.

Many Vietnam vets faced problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder and health issues arising from the herbicide Agent Orange used in the war.

To address these problems and create accountability for personnel taken as prisoners of war or listed as missing in action, Vietnam Veterans of America formed in early 1978.

VVA is the only national Vietnam veterans organization congressionally chartered and exclusively dedicated to Vietnam-era veterans and their families. The group started a voting bloc and approached politicians about veteran-specific issues and “finally (in the early 1980s), they started hearing us and they did start investigating POW/MIAs,” Kelly said.

Over the years, VVA erected a memorial at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and the city renamed its Hanover Street Bridge the Vietnam Veterans Bridge.

Kelly and his wife June moved to Ocean City nearly three decades ago, but it wasn’t until this year that the Ocean City VVA chapter got its charter. The group already has more than 40 members, with a membership drive coming soon, Kelly said.

“I couldn’t believe how easy it was once we got started,” he said. “If there are any veterans that have particular problems, we’d love to help them.”

In addition to jointly hosting the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day at the Synepuxent Post on 23rd Street tomorrow, the group plans to organize a bus trip to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. soon, Kelly said.

“Hopefully we’re going to get bigger and be able to do more in the community, (such as) volunteering,” he said.

Visit www.vva.org to learn more about the VVA. Those interested in joining the Ocean City chapter can download the application from that site, which can be mailed to VVA Chapter #1091,
P.O. Box 1343
Ocean City, Md. 21843.

Find the local VVA chapter on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ oceancityvva1091.

The group meets the first Monday of every month at 6 p.m. at the American Legion on 23rd Street and Philadelphia Avenue. Spouses are welcome to attend.

The official “welcome home” to veterans who served in the Vietnam War is tomorrow, Saturday, from 1-3 p.m. at American Legion Synepuxent Post #166. Family members are invited to the event.

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