Vietnam veterans honored

Anniversary recognized

Layla Barfield donates money to restore the vietnam helicopter
Chris Ruiz
Layla Barfield donates money to restore the vietnam helicopter
Nancy Ibarra takes a photo with Frank Dorritie as Natalie Hannum takes the picture
Chris Ruiz
Nancy Ibarra takes a photo with Frank Dorritie as Natalie Hannum takes the picture

Los Medanos College hosted the Vietnam War 50th Anniversary Celebration to recognize those who fought or had a role in the war.

The event had free food for the veterans, a presentation of special congressional recognition to LMC for recognizing the Anniversary, a Proclamation from President Obama presented by college president Bob Kratochvil, and an award ceremony for the Vietnam Veterans.

A UH-1H helicopter, or “Huey,” was present at the event. The US Department of Veteran Affairs, Concord Veteran Center, and AMVETS Post 26 sponsored the helicopter at the event. The iconic aircraft — used for 50 years by the U.S. Air Force, Army and other branches — was available for students to take pictures with.

The Concord Veteran’s Center contacted LMC Veterans Group member Tito Ramos about the occasion, who then worked with the group to plan the commemoration. Ramos said when he found out there are veterans on the LMC staff, he hoped this event would be great for them and the students to come out and celebrate.

“I know we have vets that are teachers, faculty and staff. Lots stay in hiding because of how they were seen after coming back home from war,” said Ramos. “Some students didn’t realize they were being taught by vets.”

Multiple community organizations for veterans were present and people could come and ask them questions and learn about the war and their experiences in it. The Veterans Center was one of the organizations in attendance.

AMVET Assistant Coordinator Chris Mezzepelle was 55-years-old when he was drafted. Mezzepelle said he would have joined the military if he hadn’t been drafted. He was in Thailand, not Vietnam, and said he was glad he joined the military because it presented a lot of opportunities and understandings.

Author Steven Burchik was at the event to answer questions and discuss his book “Compass and a Camera: A Year in Vietnam.” He was in the First Infantry Division as a forward observer and was in country from 1968 to 1969. His book is a documentation of his experiences and includes the 4,000 letters he wrote to his fiancé.

“My hobby was photography,” said Burchik, “ I would bring [his camera] into the field every two weeks and shoot ten rolls of film. I wound up taking more than 4,000 photos.”

Burchik said he knew at the time the war was very unpopular.

“In 1969 – when I got out of it – nobody wanted to hear about the Vietnam War,” he said.

He didn’t begin talking about the war until he visited a high school two years ago where he was asked many questions about it.

“We really wanted to strive to identify organizations in the community that would be willing to take on some of these ceremonies,” said Maurice Delmar during his opening comments at the event.

Veterans of the Vietnam War founded the Veterans Center Program for Vietnam Veterans. The program is dedicated specifically to the needs of vets and their families. The center is a place for them to come together not just for a clinical needs, but social as well.

Of the veterans there, Bill Brazil was one of the few who joined and knew he wanted to be a part of the Navy. Brazil spent his last active years at the Tonkin Gulf from 1965 to 1966. He looked forward to the end of his enlistment.

“I’m almost done, I get to go home,” he remembered thinking.

Brazil said he didn’t think the reaction to the war would be as bad as it was when he got home. As they were leaving, the Navy recommended the soldiers not to wear their uniforms because of that reaction.

After years of veterans receiving the reactions they did from the American people after the war was over, Brazil said having events such as this one is highly appreciated.

“It feels good having someone walk down the street, shake your hand and say thank you,” said Brazil.

Sarah Gonzales contributed to this report