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Ceremony to honor Vietnam veterans

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BY WILLIAM F. WEST
Staff Writer

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Vietnam War veterans are going to be remembered at an upcoming ceremony in downtown Rocky Mount.

The gathering is set for 11 a.m. on March 30 at the Veterans Memorial at Jack Laughery Park off North Church Street.

David O’Dea, 76, who’s going to be leading the gathering, himself is a Vietnam veteran. O’Dea emphasized the need to remember the Americans who served in uniform in southeast Asia.

“The Vietnam veterans were not welcomed home very well when we came home from the war,” O’Dea said. “And I think it’s important that we not forget the sacrifices they made. We lost 58,000 of our brothers there. And those people should not have died in vain. They should not be forgotten.”

O’Dea also pointed out the many who served in the war who returned home with afflictions.

O’Dea served in the U.S. Army from 1964-86, having achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel. From 1968-69, he served as an adviser to the then-South Vietnamese army. He’s presently serving as historian of American Legion Post 58 in Rocky Mount.

At the March 30 gathering at Jack Laughery Park, O’Dea said the plan is to fly the flag commemorating the 50th anniversary of the war.

O’Dea also noted American Legion Post 58 Commander Jim Taylor has a U.S. flag that flew above the destroyer he was aboard, the USS Blandy, off the then-South Vietnamese coast. O’Dea said the plan is to fly the flag from the Blandy at the March 30 gathering.

O’Dea said the rest of the plans call for raising the flags of all U.S. service branches, the playing of the national anthem and the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Additionally, O’Dea said there’ll be remarks by local Joint Veterans Committee President Lee Rumley, whom O’Dea noted is a Persian Gulf War veteran. O’Dea said Rumley is going to provide a perspective from that angle about Vietnam veterans.

O’Dea said a wreath will be placed in front of the park’s fountain, with all the Vietnam veterans in the audience to gather and there to be a benediction.

And O’Dea said there’ll be a three-volley rifle salute and the playing of taps.

Bob Shearin, 75, is a Vietnam War veteran who served in the U.S. Navy from 1966-70. Shearin was a radio man aboard the aircraft carrier USS America.

Of the upcoming Vietnam War ceremony locally, Shearin said, “I think it’s good that they finally decided to give honor to us men.”

As for what he would like someone to know most about the war, Shearin said, “I think we did a good job of fighting — and we didn’t get recognition at all for it, period.”

At the same time, he said the recognition Vietnam veterans are receiving today is good.

American Legion Post 58 Commander Taylor, 68, served in the U.S. Navy from 1969-1979 and was a radar man.

Taylor served in the war from 1972-73, and recalled the war having been quite unpopular among many college and university students.

He noted the situation was so bad service personnel switched to wearing civilian clothes before stepping off airliners upon arriving back in the U.S.

“There’s not a single one of us that wanted to go to war,” he said. “We did what was asked of us by our country.”

Taylor believes Rocky Mount is a patriotic city and noted, “A lot of people are thankful and proud for the veterans here.”

“There’s parts of this country that you wouldn’t be treated as well as you are here,” Taylor said.

Taylor today publicly wears a cap showing he’s a Vietnam veteran.

“And people are constantly coming up and shaking my hand and thanking me for my service,” he said. “And that makes you feel great, considering how we were treated when we came back.”

O’Dea said a gathering to remember Vietnam veterans had been routine for quite a time in Rocky Mount.

“Unfortunately, a few years back we got rained out three years in a row,” O’Dea said. “So we kind of put a hold on it and started it back up last year because we felt it was important.”

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