Barnegat Vietnam Tribute to Become Annual Event

Feb 06, 2019
File Photo by: Ryan Morrill

At this time last year, Thy and James Cavagnaro were hard at work preparing for a Vietnam Veterans Day ceremony on March 29 the Fred Watts Gazebo Park in Barnegat Township

The event drew more than 500 and featured a host of speakers consisting mostly of Vietnam veterans and local political leaders.

The event also featured the dedication of a Vietnam veterans memorial, a black granite monument paid for by the Barnegat couple. The memorial featured  POW-MIA, South Vietnamese and U.S. flags at the top. Underneath in large lettering, it says, “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans.”

“We want to make this an annual event,” said Thy Cavagnaro, addressing the Barnegat Township Committee at its meeting on Feb 5. In 2017, President Donald Trump signed an act proclaiming March 29 as Vietnam Veterans Day. The date was chosen because March 29, 1973 was the last day American troops left South Vietnam.

The committee agreed and gave her the green light to continue with the ceremonies annually.

Cavagnaro (birth name Nguyen) said she fled with her family to the U.S. after the South Vietnam capital fell to North Vietnamese forces in 1975. She was 1½ when the family escaped Saigon via her uncle’s naval warship, on which he served as captain. 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.

“Our ceremony in Barnegat was the first one in the state to be coordinated by a Vietnam War refugee,” she said.

Cavagnaro said that because this year’s event falls on a Friday, she looks to move the starting time to 3 p.m.

“That way we would be able to involve schoolchildren in the ceremony,” she said.

Cavagnaro said that this year’s event would probably be scaled down to have two guest speakers instead of the 12 at the inaugural event. The keynote speaker was 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.

“We’re hoping that other towns will follow our lead and hold ceremonies,” she said.  —E.E.

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