The familiar wakeup call seemed appropriate.
“Good morning, Vietnam!” John Perry said laughing at Monday’s seventh annual event for the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War Lecture Series. The coordinator since the event’s inception served as master of ceremonies for the program inside the Jackson Center in Huntsville.
Vietnam veteran Jim Henderson, a retired colonel who serves as chaplain for the Redstone-Huntsville Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army, shared his thoughts about the event as he delivered the invocation.
“I have to say this is the highlight of my year to be here with you because we were there and the Lord brought us home,” Henderson said.
Guest speaker Joe Bongiovanni, formerly of Huntsville and now residing in Jasper, was born in Italy and came to the United States when he was 11. He became a naturalized citizen, joined the Marines and he fought in Vietnam from 1967-68.
“I want to thank you, my fellow patriots,” he told the more than 100 attendees, including many veterans. “It is truly an honor to be in your midst.”
Bongiovanni served with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, 3rd Marine Division.
“We were young and we were invincible and we wanted to see action,” he said. “Well, we got to see some action.”
He described his experience, the fighting, the cold C-rations, the constant rain, the mud, the lifesaving helicopters, the lack of sleep. Ironically there were four separate times in which he cross paths with people from his hometown, Niagara Falls, New York.
“I’m damn proud to be a Vietnam vet,” Bongiovanni said. “And I wear it on my sleeve. I think about it every day. I think about our brothers who didn’t come home.”
The event’s static displays included a Huey helicopter with call sign Buc-3 which served in Vietnam, got refurbished by the North Alabama Chapter of the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association and ended up in the Veterans Museum on Airport Road. Other equipment was also on display from the Veterans Museum. Local veteran Ed Kennedy displayed his extensive collection of Vietnam memorabilia which includes uniforms, weapons and C-rations.
Retired Col. Norm Myers, the exhibit coordinator, has volunteered with the event the past five years.
“I think it’s outstanding to bring our honored Soldiers, airmen, Marines and what have you all together here,” Myers said. “I think it’s healing.”
The audience included Vietnam veteran Dick Ordway, 78, of Madison. He was an infantry platoon leader with the 173rd Airborne Brigade in 1966-67. His next tour in Vietnam was as a helicopter pilot in Da Nang in 1972 with the 67th Aviation Company. He left the Army as a major in 1973.
“I think it’s good,” Ordway said of the event. “It makes people aware of what happened a long time ago.”
Retired Col. Marshall Eubanks, president of the North Alabama Chapter of the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association, was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam from November 1971 to November 1972.
“I think it’s very interesting, it’s very useful and it supports – even though it’s about Vietnam, the 50th anniversary – it supports a wider group of veterans,” Eubanks said, “especially those who want to come out and learn more about the Vietnam War with all the displays, the information and the historical posters that are available.”