Hundreds turn out to honor veterans
By Paul Nielsen
Tuesday, November 12, 2019
U.S. Coast Guard veteran and Purple Heart recipient Butch Hampton hopped on his motorized wheelchair and set out from his home on Elcinoca Drive toward Waterfront Park. That was about an hour before Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6060’s Veterans Day ceremony was set to start in the park, at noon Monday.
Hampton first had to cross a nearly always-busy Ehringhaus Street and then navigate the sidewalk on the 1.5-mile trip before arriving at the park. But nothing stopped Hampton, who was greeted by several well-wishers when he arrived, from joining dozens and dozens of veterans in a crowd of several hundred people to honor America’s veterans.
“I come to this every year,” Hampton said. “I was very active in Disabled American Veterans. I was a service officer up until three years ago but I had to give that up because I had some medical issues. You have to go to training annually or you lose your designation and I am hoping to get back into it this year.”
Veterans from all branches of the military were honored for their service and sacrifice during the ceremony. U.S. Navy Master Chief Marcus Nieves was the keynote speaker at the ceremony, which also featured several local color guards, a recitation the Pledge of Allegiance by youth in attendance and a search and rescue demonstration by the Coast Guard.
Hampton spent 27 years in the Coast Guard, including a tour in Vietnam in 1968-1969 on the USS Point Dume. Hampton was severely injured during combat operations in support of an Army unit when a mortar shell he was attempting to load into a mortar exploded prematurely.
“I went to drop it in the tube and the tailfin exploded,” Hampton said. “I went to drop the mortar (shell), but I caught it because I realized if it hit the deck we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I then ran over and threw it over the side, and that neutralized it.”
Hampton suffered serious injuries to his left hand and his left eye and he spent several months in different hospitals.
“I had fragments in my eye,’’ said Hampton, who spent 26 years in the aviation industry after leaving the Coast Guard.
Nieves is currently the naval security force’s senior enlisted adviser for the commander of the Navy’s Mid-Atlantic Region and he described to the crowd what he believes is the true definition of a veteran. Nieves said veterans embody service, honor and sacrifice in defense to the country.
“It is someone who has endured long separations from families; missed child births, first steps, graduations, and saying goodbye to family members,” Nieves said. “Veterans have felt loneliness, fear, desperation, guilt, hopelessness, remorse, courage and pride. Some have even sacrificed their body and soul. They have buried friends at a young age and wondered at times if they were next.’’
Nieves made a point of reminding those is attendance that not all veterans were treated alike when their time in the military came to an end.
“Some volunteered and some were drafted,” Nieves said. “Some have returned home to parades as heroes. Some in the dark of night without any fan fair. Some have been spat on and shunned by the ones they swore to protect.’’
A fully refurbished Vietnam-era river patrol boat that was used by the Navy and Army was also on display. The boat was brought back to life by Shiloh resident Dennis Ambruso, a Navy Vietnam veteran who takes the boat to events like Monday’s ceremony. A PBR was featured in popular Vietnam War movies Apocalypse Now and Good Morning Vietnam and a typical boat was armed with twin 50-caliber machine guns, a grenade launcher and several light machine guns.
Ambruso bought the boat in 1991 and it took nine years to fully restore it.
“This was the standard vessel that was used on the river and they were very active,” Ambruso said. “Both the Navy and Army suffered casualties. When I bought this boat, it was just a hull and the canopy frame. I have been here for seven years now.’’