By Gary Zanardi
Past Commander, Youngstown VFW Post 313
An anniversary is a date when we remember a specific event in time. It can be a joyous memory such as a wedding anniversary.
Historians have a habit of chronicling these events that cause us to pause for just a moment to remember something that changed the direction of the nation. Every year, we remember 9-11 (Sept. 11, 2001, for those under 30). We also remember Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor initiating the U.S. entry in World War II: the “day that will live in infamy.” Though as time passes, there seems to be a collective dimming of that memory, as is the case with almost all events.
So what anniversaries are relevant for the year 2023? Anniversaries in denominations of five or 10 years seem popular: your 10-year high school reunion or 25-year wedding anniversary, for example. On a more somber note – one that certainly changed the direction and mentality of our nation – is the 60-year anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (Nov. 22, 1963).
Of particular note for veterans and their families would be the 20-year anniversary of the Iraq War (March 20, 2003). Between 2003 and 2014, there were 4,431 U.S. service members killed in action in Iraq. This is also 40-year anniversary of the Beirut bombing (Oct. 23, 1984), which was the bloodiest single day in U.S. Marine Corps history since the World War II battle for Iwo Jima (death toll: 220 Marines, 18 Naval personnel, three Army personnel and 58 French Army paratroopers). It is also the 70-year anniversary of the cease-fire in the Korean War (July 27, 1953). Total K.I.A. in the Korean War (1950-53) was 36,634.
It appears that every generation has to pay its price in blood for the nation’s freedom.
Never forgotten. (Submitted)
What about that 50-year anniversary? That golden wedding anniversary – that special anniversary. Perhaps only for Vietnam vets and some astute historians, 2023 is the 50-year anniversary of the cease-fire for the Vietnam War (Jan. 27, 1973). The agreement was reached between the U.S.; its ally, the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam); and their opposition, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (Communist North Vietnam and their ally, the National Liberation Front (NLF), better known as the Viet Cong – acronym for Vietnamese communist guerillas).
The cease-fire (known officially as the Paris Peace Accords) called for the withdrawal of the remaining 12,000-plus U.S. combat troops from South Vietnam with the remaining three combatant military forces holding in place. This, of course, was ultimately violated by the North Vietnamese and the NLF who, in 1975, launched a full-scale offensive and conquered all of South Vietnam. This accomplished the unification of the country under the communist leadership in Hanoi (then the capital of North Vietnam).
Nevertheless, the key component of the cease-fire agreement for the U.S. was the return of all prisoners of war being held in North Vietnam, most of whom were at the notorious Hanoi Hilton. Between Feb. 12 and March 29, 1973, 591 American POWs were released by the North Vietnamese. These prisoners were almost exclusively pilots and aircrews that had been shot down over North Vietnam between August 1964 and January 1973.
Some of the most high-profile POWs included John S. McCain, who served as a U.S. senator from Arizona (1987 until his death in 2018). He also ran as the Republican nominee for president in 2008. Also of note is Jeremiah A. Denton who also served as a U.S. senator (Alabama, 1981-87). He is best known for blinking, “T-O-R-T-U-R-E” in Morse Code while being “interviewed” for a North Vietnamese propaganda broadcast. His ordeal as a POW was chronicled in his book, “When Hell was in Session.” In 1979, a television movie by the same name was based on the book and starred Hal Holbrook as Denton. Denton passed away in 2014 at the age of 89.
Fast-forward to May 24, 2023, at the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California. One-hundred-seventy of those aforementioned POWs attended the gala event that included a video appearance by 100-year-old Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon’s secretary of state who negotiated the Paris Peace Accords; and U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (Delaware), a former Air Force pilot and the last Vietnam vet to serve in the U.S. Senate. In his presentation, Carper told the story of what may be the longest-lasting ceremonial legacy to come out of the Vietnam War. As an Air Force pilot himself, he recalled from personal experience that, during the Vietnam conflict, pilots would attend tactical conferences at various bases in Southeast Asia. And ever cognizant of their brother pilots being held as prisoners of war, the custom grew and evolved to remember and recognize their plight.
That custom grew into the POW/MIA table that you now see at every formal military banquet and veterans post. During any formal function, there is a generally recognized script that is read to remind those in attendance of the sacrifices that were forced upon them and their families. Go to any VFW post or American Legion hall and you will see that POW/MIA table.
And now for Veterans Day: Nov. 11, 2023. It is the 105th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I. On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, 1918, “the war to end all wars” was over. And we now recognize that same date to honor all veterans as Veterans Day.
In honor of this Veterans Day, VFW Post No. 313 invites the public to our annual ceremony at Veterans Park in Youngstown. Following that ceremony, the public is also invited to the annual Veterans Day Chiavetta’s chicken barbecue, being held this year at the American Legion O. Leo Curtis Post No. 830, 2589 Youngstown-Lockport Road, Ransomville. The event runs from noon to 5 p.m. Tickets are $15 at the door or can be ordered by calling Post 313 Cmdr. Ed Jackson at 716-531-6420. Eat in or takeout. Basket raffles and related events will be present. Proceeds go to support veterans’ programs facilitated by the O. Leo Curtis Post No. 830 and VFW Post No. 313.
We also invite family members to honor their deceased veterans over the holidays by going to the website for Wreaths Across America (https://www.wreathsacrossamerica.org). This is a program where holiday wreaths can be ordered and will then subsequently be placed at the veterans’ gravesite.
And on a personal note: Happy 25th wedding anniversary to my lovely wife, Lynn.