Vietnam Veterans Gather at Barnegat Ceremony
From By Eric Englund
March 31, 2022
Nearly 300 people, most of them Vietnam veterans, braved very frigid conditions Tuesday afternoon for the Vietnam Veterans Day commemoration in Barnegat Township at the Fred Watts Gazebo Park.
"It's good to back," said Thy (pronounced Tee) Cavagnaro, event coordinator and master of ceremonies, noting that the event was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID 19. "This day is all about you."
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 does not have to read about the Vietnam War in the history books – she experienced it first hand. Her family fled Saigon on April 30, 1975, hours before Communist forces captured the South Vietnamese capital, and took refuge in the U.S. She was a little over a year old at the time.
"This is a thank -you for all those people who sponsored us, who clothed us, who fed us and educated us," she said. "And it is also a big thank-you to the veterans who helped keep the Communists away from our home in Vietnam, and you made sure we had a safe passage to your own country after we lost ours."
She said many of the soldiers were "barely adults."
"Many of you went through unspeakable situations," said Cavagnaro. "And then when you came home, you were gaslighted because you answered the call of duty."
Cavagnaro has stressed that youth in the community should play a key role in the commemoration, and this year's keynote speaker was 10-year-old Vincent Lorenzo. His late grandfather James Beninato was awarded three Purple Hearts during his four-year tour of Vietnam, and the youngster brought one of them with him.
"I want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart," he said. "It was you veterans who were keeping us safe from harm."
During the holidays, Lorenzo has made Christmas cards to spread some joy to service members. He also made floral arrangements to honor local veterans.
"During Halloween, I always like to dress up as a soldier," he said.
The event also saw an Operation Babylift Reunion. Steve Hartmann, who was rescued from that mass evacuation in Vietnam, sang an original song he had written and composed for Vietnam veterans titled "You Are."
But before he sang, he was joined by retired Air Force Master Sgt. Rene Fougeray. The two shared a heartfelt and emotional embrace.
In addition, the Barnegat High School Navy Junior ROTC cadets provided the color guard and various support. Charlie Rollman from Boy Scout Troop 26 led the Pledge of Allegiance. The Russell Brackman Middle School chorus sang the national anthem.
The Barnegat High School marching band played an armed forces medley, inviting members of each branch of service to stand during the theme song. Dan McGrath, Barnegat High School band director, played Taps on his bugle.
The American flag flying at the event was once flown over the U.S. Capitol, and was brought courtesy of Congressman Andy Kim.
At the conclusion, all Vietnam veterans received commemorative lapel pins from the U.S. Department of Defense. They were presented by South Vietnamese veterans and members of the Vietnamese community.