WATERVILLE, Maine — Some Vietnam War combat veterans never were honored for their service and sacrifice but they will be on Thursday evening during a Vietnam Veterans Homecoming March over the Two Cent Bridge.
“The nation was at war with ourselves emotionally and figuratively when dealing with the war,” Peter Ogden, who served four tours in Vietnam with the U.S. Army’s 864th Engineer Combat Battalion and the 101th Airborne Division, said Tuesday. “I think the people who served in Vietnam got blamed for the politics of the war.”
Thursday is Flag Day and the Army’s birthday. It also is the 50th anniversary of when U.S. service members first were sent to Vietnam, Ogden said.
In Bucksport, the film “The Lucky Few,” which tells the story of the fall of Saigon in April 1975 through the eyes of crewmembers and the captain of the USS Kirk, refugees and others, is scheduled to be shown at 2 p.m. Thursday.
Maine Army National Guard Col. Jack Mosher; Kennebec County Sheriff Randy Liberty, a retired command sergeant major who served in Afghanistan; and Ogden, director of the state Bureau of Veterans Services; wanted to honor those who served in Vietnam. The trio came up with the idea for the homecoming march, which will start at the Winslow Gazebo Park, cross the Two Cent Bridge and end at the Head of the Falls Park in Waterville.
“We must acknowledge America’s failure to properly welcome home its combat service members as they returned war weary from the jungles and rice paddies of Southeast Asia,” a brochure about the walk states.
The Vietnam Veterans Homecoming March starts at 6 p.m. Thursday. Participants — Vietnam veterans and family members of deceased veterans — are urged to register by calling Ogden at 430-6035 so recognition certificates can be prepared.
Registration on the day of the honor march begins at 5 p.m. at the Winslow Gazebo Park, 114 Benton Ave., and the march lineup begins at 5:50 p.m.
Bagpipers will lead the group down the handicapped-accessible, paved path to the Two Cent Bridge and as the veterans cross the span their name, rank, branch of service and hometown will be announced. A welcoming group and family members will greet them on the Waterville side of the bridge.
“The ‘Coming Home’ march is an opportunity for veterans to physically, emotionally and spiritually … cross over the water once again and to be welcomed home by their families, our nation’s citizens and their fellow service members,” the brochure states.
Veterans and family representatives not comfortable crossing the bridge will be announced and welcomed at the Waterville side.
“This is an opportunity to say thank you and tell them we do appreciate that service,” Ogden said, adding that the event is also an opportunity to reach out to veterans to see if they need any services from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Middle-school students from Winslow will walk in honor of those who died in the war and the Freeport Flag Ladies also will be on hand, Ogden said.
Retired USS Kirk Capt. Paul Jacobs, who grew up in Milbridge, graduated from Maine Maritime Academy and now lives in Castine, said he was ordered to go to Saigon and help escort about 30 Vietnam vessels to international waters — about 50 miles from shore.
The U.S. Navy is credited with saving more than 30,000 South Vietnamese refugees 37 years ago during the fall of Saigon and “The Lucky Few” is “the untold story” of true heroes, event coordinator George MacLeod said Tuesday.
The Kirk was a destroyer escort that was converted into a humanitarian rescue ship as thousands of refugees fled the onslaught of the North Vietnamese army.
Jacobs “ordered his crew to shove helicopters overboard to make room for men, women, and children who made their way out to the ship in anything that would float,” a flier about the movie states. “The officers and crew provided food and medical care, diapered infants, and set up awnings to protect a dispirited, desperate people who had lost everything, including their country.”
The 240 or so enlisted men on board the Kirk, who were 22 years old on average, never have forgotten what happened and never have been thanked, Jacobs said.
“When they think about it, it brings tears to their eyes,” the former Navy captain said.
Jacobs; Vice Adm. Adam M. Robinson Jr., who retired from active duty in January as the surgeon general of the Navy and chief of the Navy’s Medical Corps; and Jan Herman, a former Navy historian and the film’s producer; will be on hand Thursday to provide an introduction and commentary before the film.
The show begins at 2 p.m. at the Alamo Theatre, 85 Main St., Bucksport, and complimentary tickets are available through MacLeod by calling 944-8771 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Kirk’s crew never got thanks for the job well done because of the negative homecoming those returning from Vietnam received, Jacobs said.
“I could hardly get my crew ashore in San Diego without the local people spitting on them,” Jacobs recalled. “Even though it happened 37 years ago, I’m still the skipper to these guys and I think it’s about time they got recognized for what they did.”