Vietnam Veterans Day Ceremony in Barnegat Caters to Youth

Apr 03, 2019

To many high school students, the Vietnam War probably feels like ancient history. After all, these events were making headlines in the 1960s and early 1970s – long before they were born. But for Logan Germano, a Barnegat High School junior, Vietnam is very much alive as he had two grandfathers – Philip Knorowski and the late Joseph Germano – who served in Vietnam. Germano spoke of them at the Vietnam Veterans Day ceremony on March 29, at the Fred Watts Gazebo Park in Barnegat Township.

Germano served with the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division from 1968 to 1972 while Knorowski was an artillery specialist from 1969 to 1970.

“Joe Germano was involved in door-to-door combat, and he didn’t know what he was going to face,” said Logan. “It was a very risky operation in taking the villages. He earned two Purple Hearts.”

He said the main lesson he learned from his grandfathers is that “in life, you have to do things you don’t want to do, but you have to accept it and do the best that you can do.”

Thy Cavagnaro, a Vietnamese refugee who organized the ceremony with her husband, James, said the event’s theme was “youth and the younger generation.”

“We held it from 3 to 4 p.m. at a time when children and teens could attend,” she said. “It’s very important for young people today to learn about that era in our country’s history.”

In emphasizing youth, Julia Wilson, an Ocean City High School sophomore and member of the Broadway Youth Chorus, sang the National Anthem and, at the end, led the singing of “God Bless America.” The Barnegat High School Navy JROTC participated in the color guard, and Boy Scout Troop 26 led the Pledge of Allegiance.

The groundwork for the tribute was laid in 2017, when President Donald Trump signed an act proclaiming March 29 as Vietnam Veterans Day. The date was chosen because March 29, 1973, was the last day American troops left South Vietnam.

Cavagnaro (birth name Nguyen) told the audience how she fled with her family to the United States after the South Vietnam capital fell to North Vietnamese forces in 1975. She was 1½ when the family escaped Saigon via her uncle’s naval warship, on which he served as captain. From there, they went to the Philippines, then Guam, then flew to one of the three refugee camps set up at Indiantown Gap, Pa. Eventually they were taken in by a family in East Brunswick.

“When Vietnam Veterans Day was declared, I knew right away I wanted to do something to reflect my gratitude of being rescued from the Communists and having the opportunity to grow up and live in America,” she said.

Frank Healey, Barnegat VFW commander, recalled enlisting in the Marines at age 18 in 1964. He recalled returning home on leave after being stationed in Europe.

“I was stationed in the Mediterranean,” he said. “I wasn’t paying attention to what was happening in our country.”

He went to Vietnam in February 1967, serving with a rifle company. When he returned to Camp Pendleton in California in March 1968, he found out quickly how hostile attitudes toward servicemen and women had developed.

“I came back to a country that I did not understand,” Healey said. “I was disillusioned. There was so much bitterness. It made me angry; it made me hate.”

Healey said he never completely got over that phase of his life, but he recalled how one day at the Ocean County Mall in Toms River a young man approached him and said, “Thank you for your service.”

“I was wearing a Marines cap indicating I had served in Vietnam,” he said. “It really touched me that someone went out of their way to thank me. It’s time that we lift that huge weight off our shoulders, to get rid of that hate and anger. It’s time we live with ourselves in peace.”

Barnegat Mayor Alfonso Cirulli said this tribute was needed to “respect those who answered the call of duty and reflect on the price they paid.”

“From 1955 to 1975, more than 60,000 soldiers were killed in action, and 150,000 were wounded,” he said. “There were also 1,600 missing in action. So many injustices were done to our brave men and women. That’s why we gather here today to remember.”

Cavagnaro plans to make the event an annual tradition in Barnegat.

“This was a bigger turnout than I expected,” she said. “Actually, it wouldn’t be so bad if the turnout got smaller over the years because that would mean that more area towns would be holding these tributes and veterans would not have to travel and they can be in their own communities. Of course, if they want to come to Barnegat, we welcome that, too.”

— Eric Englund

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