A local group of Vietnam War veterans is sponsoring the first place scholarship award of $500 for the Proud To Be An American essay contest. They are doing it in memory of six area men who were killed in that conflict.
The veterans group funding the scholarship includes; Neil Smith, Gale Paxson, Stan Gatewood, David Meyer, Gerald Maddock and Gary Marshal. The group met recently at IOOF River View Cemetery to remember their fallen comrades. Marshal was unable to attend.
They gathered at the grave of Joe Applegate. a Monticello man who died in the Vietnam War. With them were organizers of the essay contest, Kean MacOwan and Joe Crivello.
“I’ve worked with Joe (Applegate). He was a year ahead of me in school. A neat guy,” said MacOwan.
“Zunni (Charles Zuniga) was with me when he was killed. Joe was killed the same day,” said Smith. “It was a hard day.”
He noted another local man who died was Ishmael Eddy. He was buried in North Carolina. Zuniga was buried in Los Angeles.
“I know I was proud and honored that I was called to help, and I did stand up and help,” Smith said.
Another veteran on hand commented his service in the military were the “best and worst years of my life.”
The gathering at the cemetery stirred powerful emotions. Several men’s eyes welled up with tears and their voices cracked as they discussed what they had seen and whom they had known. At times, none could speak, but the feelings they had were silently shared with all present.
Maddock commented the Proud to be an American essays were important. It is important for young people to learn about wars and the meaning of war. It is important for them to recognize the cost of freedom, he said. “We know they have no idea what it takes to have the freedom we have these days - the sacrifice it takes,” Maddock said. “We lost in Vietnam, Korea. We’re still losing it. God only knows about Iraq and Afghanistan.”
“My hope is they’ll never have to experience that,” said Smith. “If they do, I’m darn proud of them.”
Maddock said he was proud to wear his hat showing he is a Vietnam War veteran. However, he said he did not receive a real welcome home. The only time someone in public would shake his hand and say “welcome home,” that person was a Vietnam War veteran, he said.
He said sometimes he thinks hearing someone say “thanks for your service” just seems to be a fad.
That sentiment needs to be heard more often, MacOwan commented.
Meyer said in years past, he would be the last one on the plane. Now he is the first.
The sponsorship of the top essay scholarship is in memory of Joe Applegate, Charles Zuniga, Ishmael Eddy, Morris Burns who was the first person from Monticello to be killed in the Vietnam War, George Criswell and Dean DuVall who was from the Buffalo area and has been missing in action for decades.