Parade, service honor veterans
HUNTINGTON — At 6 foot 6, Gary Fenderbosch of Gallipolis, Ohio, made a big target as he stood in his helicopter in Vietnam for more than two years some 40 years ago. And he has two Bronze Star metals to prove it.
Fenderbosch, 64, flew more than 1,300 combat hours as a crew chief and door gunner from November 1968 until August 1971.
“We had some interesting times, to say the least,” Fenderbosch said Saturday before serving as the main speaker for the 36th annual Veterans Day Program Saturday morning at the Memorial Arch in Huntington. Several hundred people participated in the parade, and dozens more watched the parade Saturday morning before the program started at 11 a.m.
“Today, Americans come together to honor and thank those who have safeguarded our nation both in peace and in war,” he said. “Veterans Day is a time to renew our national commitment to those who have borne this battle. The character of our nation can be seen in how we honor and respect all of our veterans.”
There are nearly 23 million veterans in this country and more than 1 million in active service, Fenderbosch said. “Our servicemen and women make up less than 1 percent of all Americans, but there are more than a million military spouses and their children, parents and relatives, who have shared the strain of frequent deployments in recent years, he said.
A debt is owed to all veterans who have served this nation, he said. “This is a day of remembrance, a day of thanks, a day of prayers and a day of promises,” he said. “Let us all not forget the sacrifices of those who served and those who continue to serve.”
“Do not let our returning warriors bear their wounds alone,” Fenderbosch said. “We pray that their families will receive the necessary help facing an uncertain future. On this day, let us commit ourselves to keep making sure that our veterans receive the care and benefits that they have earned and deserve.
“We need to see a new spirit of service in this nation,” he said.
During the war, Americans were subject to the draft, and those who went to Vietnam would serve a year before heading home. Fenderbosch extended his service twice.
“I was enjoying what I was doing,” he said. He figured that if he stayed on, it could save someone else from being there. “The camaraderie in the unit also was special.”
Ron Wroblewski of Ceredo, a Marine Corps veteran who also served in the Vietnam War, said Veterans Day “is a special day. It’s a day to honor our veterans who have protected our freedom and allowed us to have (events) like this.” He is a member of the Veterans Committee for Civil Improvement, which put on the parade.
“Without them, we would not be a free nation,” he said. “I joined the Marine Corps because most of my family was in the Marine Corps. I was a field radio operator. The life expectancy of field radio operators was about two weeks. We carried a radio antennae and it stuck up. We were marked men. They wanted to take out our communications. If you take out the coms, you take out a unit’s effectiveness.”
His job was to call in artillery missions and air strikes, Wroblewski said.
“I lost too many friends over there,” he said. “Freedom isn’t free. There’s a price to pay and there always will be.”
The Veterans Day ceremony was held a day before the actual holiday and two days before the observed national holiday, but Saturday was the 237th birthday of the Marine Corps.
Harold Poindexter, a Huntington resident who served in the Marine Corps from 1959-63, was deployed in both Vietnam and Korea, has been a member of the Marine Corps League detachment 340 for about 10 years.
“When I got home, I got spit on and had water thrown on me,” Poindexter said. “I didn’t care for that very much. People didn’t like the war and they took it out on us. We paid the price. Now people realize it wasn’t because of us. The president sent us there. We would rather have been here.”
“We weren’t drafted,” he said. “We volunteered. It’s because we wanted to go and do our part.”
Another Vietnam vet, Mark Ray of Greenbottom, a member of the Vietnam Vets Motorcycle Club/Legacy Vets, carried a black and red flag in remembrance of prisoners of war and those American soldiers missing in action.
“The red is for the blood they shed and the black is for mourning,” Ray said. “Our main objective is accountability. There are 17 West Virginians still unaccounted for.”
In addition to marching bands from Huntington High School and Fairland High School, there were several people in the parade wearing white sweatshirts that said “Every Day is Veterans Day.”