The ceremony was opened with a Huey helicopter flyover (hat tip to Brevard County Sheriffs Office), the most iconic symbol of the Vietnam War. Every Vietnam veteran felt some relief when hearing the sound of a Huey coming their way while in Vietnam. The rhythmic thumping of its rotor blades is unmistakable.
The Huey was so much more to a Vietnam solider than just a helicopter: it was a friend, a lifesaver, and a brother-in-arms. What a perfect way to open this event. “A big shout out to all the Vietnam veterans, your families, and friends who are here today. Thank you for your service and sacrifices. We really are a grateful nation, from sea to shining sea.”
I was chair for this year’s Vietnam 50th event, which turned out to be a beautiful event, thanks to all the volunteers on our 50th Committee. Super job team!
For those of you who don’t know, I am a Volunteer for the Support Committee at Cape Canaveral National Cemetery. My trade is graphic design, so this is what I mostly do for CCNC. I also work at the front desk once a month. Our all-volunteer Support Committee assists the cemetery staff for all the major events held at the cemetery, along with reception/office work as needed. The Cape Canaveral Ladies are also part of our Support Committee.
This year’s Vietnam 50th was the largest so far…every year attendance gets a larger and larger. It really turned out to be a super event.
Our guest speaker was Hal Kushner, a former Vietnam Prisoner of War for five and a half years. Hal doesn’t speak of his ordeal much so I was honored that he accepted my invitation to be our Speaker for this event. You see, Hal spent five and a half years as POW with a friend of mine, Frank Anton. Frank was from the same 71st Assault Helicopter Company that my brother served in. Frank was already captured  when my brother arrived in Vietnam , so Herby never personally knew him, although he certainly knew of him. I am a member of Herby’s comrades’ association, the Rattler-Firebird Association, and through the Association I came to know Frank. Frank also lives in the same county in Florida as I. It was through Frank, and reading his book, “Why Didn’t You Get Me Out” that I learned of Dr. Kushner.
Hal Kushner was captured 2 Dec.1967, and returned to American control on 16 Mar.1973. He is a successful Ophthalmologist in Daytona Beach, Florida.
” I have given a lot of talks, about medicine, about ophthalmology, even about the D-Day Invasion as I was privileged to go to Normandy and witness the 50th anniversary of the invasion in June 1944. But not about my captivity.
I don’t ride in parades; I don’t open shopping centers; I don’t give interviews and talks about it. I have tried very hard NOT to be a professional POW. My philosophy has always been to look forward, not backward, to consider the future rather than the past. “
He has spoken at a few special events, and was recently featured in the PBS documentary series, The Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick in 2018. He endured horrible brutal, unimaginable conditions. He was a 26-year old flight surgeon when the helicopter went down and he was captured. In The Vietnam War Captain Hal Kushner hopes that people will understand the deep change it caused in American culture. He also hopes that Americans will value and understand the sacrifice and contribution of ordinary service people. His story is truly remarkable.
His story truly captured our estimated 450 audience who were glued to his every word. You can read some of Hal’s words here from the Florida TODAY (which highlighted our event on the front page the following day).
You can also hear Dr. Kushner’s similar presentation he gave at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Foundation on Memorial Day 2018. Compelling story.
We were so fortunate to also have the Vietnamese Unforgettable Memories Foundation attend. This is an organization of Vietnamese women who escaped Vietnam during the Fall of Saigon in 1975, thanks to our Vietnam era soldiers who helped get them to freedom. They are so very thankful to our Vietnam soldiers for saving them that they started the Foundation to thank them by pinning the Vietnam 50th official Lapel Pin on our Vietnam veterans.
One of our attendees wrote a message to the leader of this organization thanking them for their presence, and pinning of the lapel pin on her husband. She wrote that her husband felt healed after meeting these ladies. He could see that his service was not in vain, that he was part of the whole who brought freedom to the South Vietnamese. Awesome.
The Rolling Thunder Florida Chapter One contributed the Missing Man Table and presented the POW/MIA wreath.
We had a 1953 Studebaker (Duece and a half) on display, an Army jeep, and a Airboat decked out POW style, along with the traveling Vietnam Mobile Museum. A great display of artifacts for people to see.
After Dr. Kushner’s presentation, members of the Support Committee read the 602 names of the Vietnam era veterans who were buried at CCNC from March 29, 2018 until March 29, 2019. All Vietnam veterans names were read the following year, which was well over 1,200 names. It is a very emotional experience not only to read the names, but to hear them read, especially if you have a loved one whose name is read.
Singer Suzy Cunningham (NASA employee) sang our national anthem, Star Spangled Banner and later in the program during her rendition of America the Beautiful, an American icon, a bald eagle soared ahead the crowd with her two young. Amazing timing.
We closed the ceremony with a tribute from our WWII fathers and comrades with a C47 (the Tico Belle) flyover.
The TICO BELLE served in the WWII Normandy Invasions, Cherbourg, Bastogne and Berlin Airlifts just to name a few. Today, the Valiant Air Command offers her to honor Vietnam Veterans interred here at Cape Canaveral National Cemetery as well as to all those that have sacrificed for our great Country.
Immediately following the ceremony we held a Vietnam 50th Lapel Pinning to pin any Vietnam veteran who had not already received his or her long deserved outward recognition for their service in Vietnam.
Pinning is not only for Vietnam Veterans but also for their loved ones. If you are a family member of a Vietnam Veteran who is deceased there is a process one must follow to request the various pins for families.
The Blue Star Lapel Pin is for surviving family members of a Vietnam veteran who passed away here in the United States after the war. The Gold Star Lapel Pin is for surviving family members of a Vietnam soldier who gave the ultimate sacrifice while in Vietnam.
If you wish to get a Blue Star of Gold Star Lapel Pin I refer you to the Vietnamese Unforgettable Memories Foundation or email H.D. (Hong Doan) as this is what these ladies do. You may also visit the Vietnam War 50th Anniversary website.
Just so happened that Daniel Bernardi, President and Filmmaker for El Dorado Films, Veterans Documentary Corps and his film crew were on site filming for a documentary in concert with the National Cemetery Administration about national cemeteries. They filmed our event, and interviewed Dr. Kushner, Don Murphy (Cemetery Director), his staff and several members of the Support Committee at Cape Canaveral National Cemetery, me included.
The documentary should be published some time later this fall on the History Channel. Not sure if they’ll use any footage of me, but it was fun to be interviewed.
It never ceases to amaze me of the people, the situations, the stories, everything that has changed my life so much [for the better] all because of that tragic day, January 10, 1970, when my brother was taken from this world in service to our country in Vietnam. Bittersweet, yes. And this is why I do whatever I can do to support our Vietnam veterans, any veteran for that matter…all in honor and memory of my brother, CAPT. Herbert C Crosby [Herby].
Welcome Home and Thank You Vietnam Veterans!