Vietnam Veterans Get Day of Honor March 29

Mar 14, 2018
File Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Thursday, March 29, will be the first nationally recognized Vietnam Veterans Day, and a Vietnamese native who lives in Barnegat Township is coordinating a ceremony beginning at noon in Fred Watts Gazebo Park on Main Street.

“We encourage all Vietnam veterans from anywhere and anyone who supports them to come to the ceremony,” said Thy (pronounced Tee) Cavagnaro. “We are expecting at least several hundred people to attend, and veterans groups from not only New Jersey but other states as well.”

The ceremony will also feature the dedication of a Vietnam veterans memorial, a black granite monument with images of the POW-MIA, South Vietnamese and United States flags at the top. Underneath in large lettering, it will say, “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans.”

Inscribed in smaller letters is, “In memory and honor of all those who served, died or remain missing in the Vietnam War. Presented in gratitude by the Vietnamese community of New Jersey.”

Cavagnaro (birth name Nguyen) said the keynote speaker is Jonathan T. Gilliam, whose background includes serving as a Navy SEAL, federal air marshal, Department of Homeland Security adviser and special agent with the FBI. He serves as a network news law enforcement, national security and political analyst.

“Our national anthem singer, Ron Brooks, is an East Coast legend, having performed with Stevie Wonder & Bruce Springsteen,” Cavagnaro said. “He is also the first double amputee Eagle Scout; a representative of George H. W. Bush’s “1000 Points of Light,” and no stranger to singing the national anthem at packed venues for the NBA and NHL. Our bugler, Josh Lathrop, is also an Eagle Scout, and an Army Specialist.”

She said the Vietnamese community will be represented by Huy Nguyen, president of the Vietnamese American Community of South Florida, and the architect and sculptor of the Vietnam War Memorial in Orlando.

“He’ll be flying in from Florida to show the level of Vietnamese support in showing our Vietnam veterans how much they’re appreciated,” said Cavagnaro. “More members from other parts of the country will also be attending.”

Following the ceremony, a reception will be held at Barnegat American Legion Post No. 232 on North Main Street.

Cavagnaro said an act of Congress honoring Vietnam veterans with a day of recognition was signed into law by President Trump last year.

“Initially, we thought about dedicating the memorial on Veterans Day (Nov. 11),” said Cavagnaro. “But now we’re going to do it on this new special day.”

Early last year, she and her husband, Jimmy Cavagnaro, approached the township committee about erecting the Vietnam veterans memorial at their own expense. She talked about how she and her family fled Saigon as the South Vietnam capital fell to North Vietnamese forces in 1975.

“I am thankful for the collective action to help me and my family to find a safe haven in America and to prosper afterwards,” Cavagnaro said. “I have so much to be thankful for.”

She was 1½ when the family escaped Saigon via her uncle’s naval warship, on which he served as captain. “All extended family members were able to escape on this boat, as well,” she said.

Cavagnaro said from there, they went to the Philippines, then Guam, and then flew to one of the three refugee camps set up at Indiantown Gap, Pa. Eventually, they were taken in by a family in East Brunswick.

“These veterans were heroes and were not given their due thanks when they initially came back,” she said. “Barnegat seems like the type of community that would support this. And this is my way of saying thanks for what you did.”

For more information, call Cavagnaro at 908-461-8409.

— Eric Englund


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