HARRY honors Vietnam veterans and the fallen

Volunteers serve food during the Memorial Day Commemoration.

HARRY honors Vietnam veterans and the fallen
June 02
00:03 2016

HARRY Veterans Community Outreach Service’s eighth annual Memorial Day Commemoration drew hundreds to Bolton Park on Monday, May 30.

The commemoration, which was expected to draw one thousand people or more, featured music, activities for kids, and free food that had a line of attendees wrapping around the park’s large picnic shelter. But it was also a solemn occasion, commemorating fallen service members and honoring those who served.

The Patriot Guard Riders held flags on either side of the outdoor stage as the N.C. Civil Air Patrol Honor Guard performed a memorial table ceremony. Young guard members marched around the table and then stood beside it as Lt. Col. Max Benbow explained that the empty plates and glasses on it were set for fallen comrades who couldn’t be there. A Bible on the table represents whatever faith they had and flags bearing the symbols of each branch of the U.S. Armed Forces adorned the table. Taps was played at the end.

“Those service members that have gone on before us have taken the final flight to the heavens,” said Benbow. “They cannot be replaced, but they can be remembered.”

Brian Wood, assistant director of the Veterans Affairs regional office, read a proclamation by President Barack Obama on the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.

“While no words will ever be fully worthy of their service, nor any honor truly befitting their sacrifice, let us remember that it is never too late to pay tribute to the men and women who answered the call of duty with courage and valor,” read the 2012 proclamation, which began a 13-year program to commemorate the war from May 28, 2012, to November 11, 2025.

Vietnam veterans in attendance were given commemorative pins and a copy of the proclamation.

HARRY founder Ciat Shabazz said most of the people the organization helps are Vietnam veterans. Her late brother Harry Smith, who died of colon cancer that was undiagnosed and untreated by the VA, was a Vietnam War era veteran. She said veterans of that era came home to a public that didn’t welcome them.

“They were sent to stand in harm’s way for us and they were held accountable for something that was no fault of theirs,” she said.

Vietnam veteran Milton Wright was drafted into the war. He was in the 101st Airborne and served in the war for a year.  He then served as a drill sergeant at Fort Dix for two years after that.

He said he was thankful to have survived the war, since he knew others who didn’t.

Wright was glad to come home after the war, but knew he was unwelcome by the public. He changed into civilian clothes at the airport so no one would know he was a soldier and still rarely talks about the war except with other Vietnam veterans.

“I try to put it out of mind, out of sight,” he said.

He said while he appreciates the 50th anniversary honors of recent years, he wishes they’d been done years ago. He said he continues to have health complications from a knee injury in the war and exposure to Agent Orange. He’s had cancer twice, but currently it’s in remission. He said he’s covered by the VA, but it took two tries to get his claim accepted.

Wright said, however, that overall his service was a good experience, as he got to travel and see the world during R&R.  His son is an Air Force veteran who currently works overseas as a military contractor.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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