The Bennington community is known for hosting parades to celebrate holidays including Battle Day, Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and, most recently, St. Patrick's Day. The town is also host to jubilant impromptu processions to honor area high school sports teams that bring home state championships.
On April 7, the local Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter will introduce a new parade to this year's roster: a parade commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.
I have the utmost respect, reverence and gratitude for the more than 9 million military personnel -- including 58,220 who died and 303,644 who were wounded -- who served during that unpopular war.
Among those who served are a few people I know and love: My mother, Pat Johnson, my father, the late Richard Karas, and my uncle, Herb Silva.
My mom and dad both served in medical roles in the Army during the early years of the war. My dad, an oral surgeon, was stationed in a military hospital in Korea and for at least part of the time worked in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) unit, where he performed mouth and jaw surgeries on the wounded. My mom, a nurse, served stateside at Fort Sam Houston, in San Antonio, Texas, where she tended to soldiers as they returned home.
My uncle was a Marine helicopter pilot in Vietnam and doesn't talk a whole lot about what horrific things he saw there. My mom, however, notes that her brother "came close to meeting God a few times." He now volunteers to help Marines returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan to reassimilate into U.S. society after active duty.
In January, when I first met John Miner, president of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter No. 601 in Bennington, I told him about my family connection to the war. He said sincerely and unhesitatingly: "Please tell them I said thank you for their service."
Miner, a veteran himself, is painfully aware that not all Vietnam veterans -- or veterans of more recent wars -- were properly welcomed home or even thanked.
The parade planned for Bennington on April 7 is meant to provide that welcome home and to honor all veterans. The procession will start at noon from the former Bennington Middle School and will make its way to the Vermont Veterans Home off North Street.
In addition to featuring the local chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America, the parade may include veterans groups such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legions, Disabled American Veterans, Vermont National Guard Bravo Company, and the U.S.S Bennington Association. Other groups including the Patriot Guard Riders, Vermont Rolling Thunder, American Legion Riders may also appear.
Once the procession arrives at the veterans home, there will be a ceremony and a display of 50 Vietnam War commemorative flags, which will to be flown a the facility for 30 days, starting on the day of the parade.
Miner said parade organizers are hoping for a strong turnout.
The Bennington chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America is seeking donations to cover the $1,500 in expenses associated with the event. To make a donation, send a check to: VVA Chapter 601, P.O. Box 4146, Bennington, VT 05201. For more information, contact Miner at 802-733-8576.