A Vietnam veteran, member of the American Legion and chaplain for Sag Harbor VFW 9082 who will be the featured speaker for the American Legion’s annual Veterans Day parade.
What’s on the agenda for this year’s Veteran’s Day?
Well, we have our ceremony at the American Legion after our little jaunt down Main Street [on Sunday, November 11 at 9 a.m., beginning at the Civil War Monument] and we’re having a veteran’s dinner-dance that evening for friends and family.
Sag Harbor seems to be very supportive of their veterans. Have you noticed that?
Sag Harbor is such a close-knit village that everyone seems to know whose son, daughter, husband or wife is in service. Sag Harbor Village has always respected its veterans. I have a lot of respect for the community, because they really care.
You also serve as a chaplain for the Sag Harbor VFW. What does your work entail?
If there are any funerals for deceased veterans, I’ll do the chaplain service at the funeral home. The chaplain always gives prayers at the meetings, and the reason I do it is I feel in touch with those who have passed away and those that are living. I feel that it’s in that position that I can say words of encouragement and it just makes me feel good about what I can do as a human being.
You were stationed along the Tay Ninh border region of Cambodia and Vietnam with the 533rd Combat Engineer Corp from 1970-1971. What drew you to the army?
In those days, you did what your father told you to do. He went to war in World War II. He said, “Well, you’re going to have to go [to Vietnam].” We didn’t question it. [As far as] my Vietnam War experience, it wasn’t a popular war. Many people my age were protesting, but it gave us a sense of what freedom really means.
What are your feelings on the current war in Afghanistan?
I really want everyone to come home. There’s no reason to be in a war that’s 11 years old, which is the Afghanistan conflict. And we should bring these people home immediately, if not sooner. If there were any goals — whether it was freedom, democracy, protection or people’s rights — the American soldiers have done their job. They need to come home.
Do you think that returning vets from Afghanistan and Iraq face different challenges from veterans of your generation and previous generations?
I feel that these young men and women who go over there are fighting a different tactical war. There are a lot of terrorist roadside bombings, and psychologically, it’s a lot of stress. There’s a tremendous amount of homeless veterans and a tremendous amount of suicides. The casualty rate for post-traumatic stress disorder is astounding. And we all seem to hold it back. What I’m trying to do is be a listener. That’s why I go to the VA hospital in Northport once a week to talk to them. It’s up to the next generation of people, besides me, to talk to these men and women when they come home. There are a lot of people out there that are lonely and afraid, and it’s a sad thing.
What does Veterans Day mean to you?
Veterans Day is an important day for the living. We do have Memorial Day for our deceased. For me, the day is a particular time that you can thank a veteran for having your freedom. It’s a sense of standing for freedom — you have your speech, your press, you have freedom to love. I can’t stress enough the [importance] of shaking a veteran’s hand. I feel that if you love your freedom, you should thank a vet. You don’t have to be patriotic. You don’t have to be a warmonger or a peace-lover. It’s just that your freedom is something you should appreciate.