Haverhill Vietnam War Veterans Day: Mistreated for Years, Veterans Now Have Access to Array of Services

Veterans Northeast Outreach Center Executive Director William Kelly outlines services now available to veterans. (WHAV News photograph.)

(Additional photograph and listing of Haverhill’s Fallen 13 below.)

Veterans returning home from Vietnam 50 years ago didn’t always find much support, but their sacrifices were honored during a Haverhill ceremony Friday, where officials emphasized today’s vast array of help and services.

Observing National Vietnam War Veterans Day under a tent in the rain at Haverhill’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Mill Brook Park, Veterans Northeast Outreach Center Executive Director William Kelly discussed how times have changed.

“To our national shame, they were ignored when they came home and, for the longest time, wished away by society. It is only with the emergence of more recent conflicts that Vietnam residents are now recognized and revered,” he said.

Kelly noted, however, “Ironically, right now, there have never been more benefits and services available to all veterans, but the Vietnam veterans I know find services hard to access, computer portals frustrating to use and they retain such a poor perception of the VA for the way they were treated back then that they no longer even try to apply for the very benefits that they earned.”

Kelly pointed to curb-to-curb transportation, twice-a-week by MeVa Transit to the Bedford Veterans Administration medical building, Massachusetts’ unique veterans’ services officers—such as Haverhill Veterans Services Director Jeffrey C. Hollett—located in every community, home care services, Veterans Crisis Hotline available to friends and families of veterans and the service center of Veterans Northeast Outreach Center. These services include housing stability for those at risk of becoming homeless, weekly food pantry, help for substance issues, assisting with clothing and personal care items. These are difficult issues for people at any age, but Kelly said, “now imagine trying to do that when you’re 70.”

“We also operate several facilities across the Merrimack Valley. At any one time, we house 65 to 75 veterans—most of them are, what I would say, aging in place gracefully and a lot of them are Vietnam-era veterans,” he added.

Haverhill Mayor Melinda E. Barrett read a poem by Judith A. Zaino, “We Remember Those Who Served,” proclaiming, in part, “Vietnam veterans fought to keep our world free, yes they did it all for you and me. We can’t take back how these veterans were treated then, but today we choose to honor those brave women and men.”

Sen. Barry R. Finegold reported on legislation to create a special Commission on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to further research, awareness and improved treatment; property tax exemptions for disabled veterans; and the streamlined VOTES Act which makes it easier for veterans to cast ballots from overseas.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial Ad Hoc Commissioner Linda Gambino Baxter, whose brother Michael Gambino was one who made the ultimate sacrifice, read the honor roll with the names of Haverhill’s 13 who gave their lives in Vietnam.

Haverhill City Council President Thomas J. Sullivan, Vietnam Veterans Memorial commissioner, served as master of ceremonies.

Singing of the National Anthem by Stephanie Carpenito opened the observance, while music by Trumpeter Neil Flewelling was played throughout and closed the commemoration.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial Ad Hoc Commissioner Linda Gambino Baxter, whose brother Michael Gambino died in the war, read the honor roll. To the right are Vietnam Veterans Memorial Chairman Ralph T. Basiliere and Mayor Melinda E. Barrett. (WHAV News photograph.)

Haverhill’s “13”

  • Ralph T. Basiliere
  • Willard R. Ryan
  • Arthur P. Williams
  • James N. Finn
  • Richard O. DeMaris
  • Robert P. Schena
  • William L. Bonnell
  • John C. Peel
  • Barry S. Kyle
  • Frederick Derocher
  • Michael J. Gambino
  • William Cahill
  • Gregory C. Davis

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