Barnegat Ceremony Will Honor Vietnam Veterans

Jan 24, 2018

It will be a busy winter for Barnegat Township resident Thy (pronounced Tee) Cavagnaro, who is planning a dedication ceremony for a Vietnam veterans memorial located in the downtown gazebo park. The event will take place at noon on the first nationally recognized Vietnam Veterans Day, which is Thursday, March 29.

“We will have a big celebration afterwards at the Barnegat American Legion, where everyone is invited,” said Cavagnaro. “We encourage all Vietnam veterans from anywhere and anyone who supports them to come to the ceremony. We are expecting at least several hundred people to attend, and are working with our township and police department to help with parking and traffic control in anticipation of a very large turnout.”

Last spring, Cavagnaro (birth name Nguyen)  and her husband, Jimmy Cavagnaro, approached the township committee about erecting the memorial at their own expense. The officials were receptive to the idea and then sought input from the local American Legion and VFW posts.

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, 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.”

She said the black granite monument will have images of the American, POW-MIA and South Vietnamese flags at the top. Underneath in large lettering, it will say, “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans.”

Then in smaller letters will be inscribed “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 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.

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.” 

Gene O’Grady, Barnegat American Legion commander, said he is trying to arrange for the state American Legion commander to speak.

“We’re very glad that there is a special day to remember those who fought in Vietnam,” said O’Grady. “We’re reaching out to various veteran leaders who would want to be in attendance.”

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

— Eric Englund

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