Some of the veterans assembled for the Flag Day celebration breakfast last week at the Rocky River Memorial Hall may have last seen combat before other veterans present were born. However, they share a bond that has no regard for age.
“World War II and Korea veterans were not free to talk. It was like a pressure cooker. Now we have a release valve. It’s a healing process for us,” speaker Alan Valenzeno, District 6 director of the Buckeye State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America, told the group of veterans and city officials. Also addressing the audience were Rocky River police Lt. Carl Gulas, Ohio House District 10 candidate Rob Frost and county councilman for District 1, David Greenspan.
Gulas, a Vietnam veteran and recipient of the Bronze Star, spoke on the meaning of the flag.
“It was ingrained in me that I would defend the flag,” said Gulas, who added that he had always been inspired by the World War II photo of the raising of the U.S. flag on Mt. Suribachi during the battle of Iwo Jima. He said it was citizens’ duty to “carry on the sanctity and liberty of the flag.”
Valenzeno, who said that his group speaks to area high school students, stated he was brought up in a generation that had pride in and respect for the military.
“When you graduated from high school you had a choice; college or the military,” he stated.
Given this background, the harsh, often disrespectful treatment given to returning Vietnam veterans left scars. He said they received no debriefing before returning home.
“It has taken some of us 40 years to heal. This was a time when men did not cry, and children were seen and not heard,” he stated.
“I wish we had support when we came home. We carried around a lot of rage in us. It does not go away overnight; it took a long time to build up,” Valenzeno remarked, adding that there is no veteran without some degree of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).
During his service in the Navy, Valenzeno said that he saw much of the world, but not just the “good part.” He had a firsthand view of much oppression, including the starvation that made people at a stop in Japan scour through the ship’s trash for food.
Although education for veterans was an option to returning troops, Vaenzeno said that this was also a challenge. “There was a 40-year difference in attitude when we came back, even though we were only (about three years older) than the other students. All they wanted to do was drink; we wanted to get serious,” he said.
Valenzeno said that during the last 38 years, support for veterans has improved.
“If today’s veterans got the welcome we did, there would be a revolt. Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another,” he concluded.