PLATTSBURGH — A grateful nation thanks and honors you.
That message graces the backs of the lapel pins Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-Queensbury) presented to more than 40 Vietnam War-era veterans during a commemoration ceremony at American Legion Post 20 in Plattsburgh Friday.
"As we head into Veterans Day weekend, this weekend is about gratitude, it’s about thanking our heroes and those that have sacrificed and have given so much to our nation," she said.
"On behalf of this community, on behalf of this country, I want to thank our Vietnam War era veterans for their service."
The event was organized by Stefanik's office and the North Country Honor Flight.
Stefanik said the 21st Congressional District has more veterans than any other in New York State.
She highlighted recent legislation of special importance to Vietnam War-era veterans.
Those included the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, which was signed into law this past year and "restores benefits for thousands of sailors who served in the territorial seas of Vietnam and Cambodia," the congresswoman said.
She also mentioned the Keeping Our Promises Act, which updates the Agent Orange Act of 1991 in expanding the medical conditions recognized as stemming from exposure, and the Lonnie Kilpatrick Pacific Relief Act.
Stefanik said the latter "expands the geographic territory for eligibility for, again, those that have been covered under the Agent Orange Act."
Stefanik said the commemorative Vietnam War veterans pin came out of a law Congress passed in 2008.
She acknowledged that many of them did not receive the gratitude they deserved when they returned from serving.
"We are happy to be a generation and a community that thanks you for going above and beyond for answering the call to serve your nation and serve a cause higher than yourself."
The front of the pin includes an eagle that represents courage, honor and service; a blue circle for vigilance, perseverance and justice; a laurel wreath to signify victory, integrity and strength; stripes for the American flag; and six stars to recognize the six allies who fought together during the war: Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, Thailand and the U.S., Stefanik said.
State Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) brought up how she has two sons who are veterans of the U.S. Navy.
"I want to thank all of you and thank the families.
"You all endure a lot of anxiety when your loved one is serving overseas."
Friday morning, Assemblyman D. Billy Jones (D-Plattsburgh) spoke to Beekmantown seventh-graders about public service and community service.
"I can think of no other or better way to give back to our community than to honor our veterans and volunteer in organizations that help our veterans, and I expressed that."
He said the pinning ceremony does not make up for how the Vietnam era veterans were treated when they returned.
"But we certainly continue to strive to make up for the sacrifices and how you were treated when you got home.
"We can never ever thank you enough."
Plattsburgh Town Supervisor Michael Cashman said he grew up in a household with his grandfather, a Korean War veteran who taught him to respect and understand the values of being an American.
"What you folks did for our nation, then and today, is simply inspiring by your example.
"And we live through the light that you provided us."
He brought up how the town is working on a new veterans park.
"One of the key features of that new park will recognize and honor the Vietnam era. You deserve that."
Assemblyman Dan Stec (R-Queensbury) served eight years in the U.S. Navy as a nuclear engineer and was stationed in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm.
"You’re all near and dear to my heart because I’ve walked a couple miles in some of your boots," he said.
Stec said Stefanik suggested he bring his father, George, — who served in the Marine Corps from 1962 to 1965 during the Vietnam War — to the ceremony so he could receive a pin.
"This is a complete surprise for me," George told the Press-Republican.
George recounted how his father, a blacksmith in the Polish cavalry, immigrated to the U.S. where he became a citizen and enlisted in the U.S. Army.
He had seven sons: four — including George — served in the Marine Corps, two in the U.S. Army and one in the U.S. Air Force.
The three generations of Stecs collectively served in both World Wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Gulf War.
George emphasized how the military legacy goes from his father, who shoed horses during World War I, to Dan, who split atoms on a nuclear warship.
"I give credit to all the military personnel, all the veterans because when you’re enlisted or if you’re drafted, when you sign that paper to be a service person, you don’t know where they’re going to send you."
In retrospect, George sometimes thinks about how easy it would have been for him to become a prisoner-of-war while serving in Vietnam.
He worked in artillery and served as his commanding officer's personal driver.
"I shudder sometimes and think I have been blessed," he said. "No question in my mind."
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