Divisions still remain. Some old. Some renewed.
My speech was meant as a peace offering from my generation back to theirs. That our generation, the one that grew up in the shadow of their shaming, was here to try to understand them, that at the least, we wish nothing less for them than their full atonement.
But it was not our battle. We were not the ones who turned their back to their struggle. We could not atone for that. Best we can offer is to not forsake them now.
To promise them that we will remember, who they were and what they gave.
Vietnam. We were involved there before Korea. And still, we weren’t ready.
While they were chasing ghosts in the jungle, our country was tearing itself apart.
Sitting down at the 49th Annual Viet Nam Last Man’s Club dinner last night I was struck by how things change and how they stay the same.
Obviously these men that served fifty years ago have changed (aged) a good deal. But what was plainly abundant was their commitment to the country they served and especially their commitment to each other.
I had the pleasure of sitting with VNLMC President Dale Nansteel and Sgt.-At-Arms Mitchell Nace and his wife Linda. Also joining us was former Lehighton teacher and Kutztown University professor Dr. Dale Titus.
Titus was a navy veteran who served in Viet Nam from 1967 to 1968. He shared several keen observations, including how welcomed he felt in the streets of South Vietnam upon a return visit there.
|Dr. Dale Titus, served in the navy |
in Vietnam and former Lehighton
area teacher and professor emeritus
at Kutztown University.
He found citizens of his era walking up to him thanking him for his service and how they too fought on the side of the South.
Which brings me to the point of my message that evening: To measure what we have lost and what we have gained and to gather a sense of atonement from it all.
(This remainder of this article is both a paraphrase of my words as well as a record of this 49th banquet.
The pictures of this post were presented to those in attendance via a PowerPoint presentation. My attempt to bridge my understanding of them to their service.)
I can only imagine that it hasn’t been easy for you.
Conflict was a euphemism for the war.
Specifically, what your generation has lost and what it has given could easily be overlooked.
Recently, the Legion sold the Franz Kline mural 'Lehighton.' This has been a cause that has divided opinion among some. And Franz Kline too, in his short life, experience conflict as well.
Your generation and Kline both share a common distinction: you both suffered through loss and conflict.
But we cannot go back. We should try not to live in regret. It is easy to allow nostalgia linger and feed those feelings.
|The Lehighton Legion Menu from the early|
|The seafood platter served at the 49th annual club dinner was nearly|
identical to the platter routinely served at the Legion in the 1950s.
But it is also where the roots of your generation’s war were, the beginnings of Vietnam.
The Vietnam ‘Conflict.’ We all know those who were in the thick of it knew it as war,
And you gathered here know more than most, how war certainly is hell.
|Bill Kirkendall was a B-52 tail-gunner|
with 50 missions over Europe.
Sons like David grew up in the shadow
of their fahters' glories of WWII.
For them, Vietnam was a bitter pill
To add insult to injury, you couldn’t even talk about it.
Fellow veterans didn’t even dare mention their prior service to strangers, and in some cases, those strangers were veterans themselves, afraid to mention the war to new acquaintances.
Your father’s fought a glorious war, you hung around in the shadows of their popular service.
|Gene Semanoff - Served in the Air|
Force during Vietnam.
|Gene's father, Joe Semanoff served in the|
101st Airborne in Europe.
You have gathered here to honor the memory of those fallen from us and to celebrate those who are still here.
All of us are the sum of all our parts. And sometimes we can realize how we can be greater than the sum of our parts. This is true for this group. This is true for you as an individual. All of you have been molded by the Vietnam era.
You are gallant.
You are gentle men and you are gentle ladies.
|Glen "Smokey" Troutman (VNLMC VP), Randy Rabenold (Korean Last Man's Club), Henry Long, Captain Pete Semanoff, and father Gene Semanoff at a 2014 Memorial Day Service at the Lehighton Area Middle School.|
|Glenn "Smokey" Troutman from his Lehighton yearbook along with fellow Vietnam veteran classmate Gary Vanage. Gary's name was added to the list of the dead honored at each year's banquet in 2005.|
You are heroes.
You have served us well, and we the community of Lehighton are better for having fine men and women like you who she can call her sons and her daughters.
As a historian and fellow son of Lehighton, a son of a Korean War soldier, I want you to know, how grateful I am to you. I am proud to have grown up under the shadow of your great and self-less serving and sacrifice.
I hope you will accept my deepest gratitude.
Near the end of our conversation, Dr. Titus made one last observation.
Our modern fleet ships are built differently: Gone are the side-decks, staffing is down, and with everything so dependent on sonar, control is made from a windowless room. He believed these were the conditions that have lead to the current spate of collisions.
In other words, the new navy is so stealthy that command and control is left with a limited view.
Perhaps that is where atonement can begin, in seeing the whole picture.
It was suggested by Titus to find a Vietnamese refugee that found a new home here in America to speak at next year's banquet.
Surely these veterans could find some solace in hearing a survivor's story, someone who has benefited from their toil and sacrifice.
After the toast to the dead with the red wine and the toast to the living with the white, names of VNLMC members who died in the previous year were named: Al Buchignani, Stewart Alboucq, Robert Emmert, and Gary Neifert.
VNLMC Chaplain Sue Snyder offered both the opening and closing prayer. And Sec/Treas David Bryfolge wished for prayers to all in attendance that they will once again be with them in 2018.
The following names are recorded by the club as those who were killed in action and those members who have since died of other causes.
The former high school/junior high in Lehighton was recently namedafter Pfc Clyde Houser who was lived just down the street
on South St before moving to Held St on Union Hill.
KIA: Ronald S.H. Christman (Not to be confused with the Ronald Christman pictured earlier.)
Clyde R. Houser Jr.
Leon D. Eckhart
Charles R. Jones
|Twenty-one year old Merlin Hollenbach had visited|
back home to Lehighton between boot camp and
landing in Vietnam. His good-byes are still
remembered as prophetic to his friends who look
back at that time.
|Newly married, arrived in Vietnam|
on his 21st birthday. He died 3 days
before Christmas, 1968.
Charles Ahner, Douglas Beck, Henry Beck, William Beck, Douglas Beers, Robert Beers, Wilmer Berger, Donna Blauch, Kenneth Bretz, Ronald Christman, William Crowley, Bert David, Richard Dean, Warren Dresher, Ernest Eidem, Dennis Exner, Dean Gilbert, William Graver, Kermit Heiland, Robert Q. Koch, Robert Horvath, Raymond Heiland, David Kirkendall, Edward Korastinsky, Robert Lewis, Albert Lichenwalter, David Mertz, Harold Long, Harr D. Miller, Walter S. Metzger, Charles Moser, Robert G. Mowery, Donald Niehoff, Donald Reichard, Richard J. Richter, Carl Schoenberger, Joe J. Slanina, Terry Snyder, Kenneth Snyder, Gary G. Solt, Philip I. Stiegerwalt, Dennis Sullivan, Gary Vanage, Lee F. Wentz, Neal E. Yehl, Jim Young, Charles Yenser, Edward Zellner, Thomas V. Smith, Fred Young, William M. Graver Sr., Robert Yanero, Charles Solt III, Warren E. Long Sr., Ronald E. Taschler, Donald E. Ziegenfus, Dennis Sander, Thomas A. Meehan, Leroy A. Hefflefinger, Thomas C. Geshel, John S. Kobal, Thomas A. Polk, William C. Newton Jr., Leonard K. Zellner, John Kriel, Paul Hancharik, James Holland, Larry E. Smith, Robert C. Stien, Robert G. Moser, Warren R. Remaley, Dennis C. Dotter, Roger L. Kocher, Conrad A. Stahre, Martin L. Rex, George N. Kraftician, Dana Beisel, Richard Beltz, Lamont Hunsicker, Carl Everett.
|From the 1971 Lehighton yearbook.|
Holland was a member of the Lehighton
Fire Company, served on the school board,
and a member of the VNLMC.
Within the past year:
Al Buchignani, Stewart A. Alboucq, Robert N. Emmert, and Gary Neifert.
|Major Laurence J. Law was|
married to cousin Patsy Stegura
Law (her mother was my father's
sister). He volunteered for Vietnam
and received the Silver Star, the
military's third highest honor.
|My cousin Patricia Stegura Law of Nanticoke's husband.|
|The Morning Call - February 1966|