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Alle-Kiski Valley Vietnam vets celebrate resolution's passage

| Thursday, March 20, 2014, 1:11 a.m.

When New Kensington's Dennis Gianotti returned in 1972 from three years in Vietnam, he says he was jeered by those who failed to dissociate the troops from the conflict.

“There was a lot of name-calling and hostility,” said Gianotti, 63. “We just didn't feel welcome or appreciated.”

More than four decades later, the state House of Representatives has set out to give Vietnam veterans in Pennsylvania a proper, albeit late, welcome home.

The House passed a resolution on Wednesday recognizing March 30, 2014, as “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.” The resolution, sponsored by state Rep. Eli Evankovich, R-Murrysville, was passed unanimously before 11 Alle-Kiski Valley Vietnam veterans who were invited to the state capitol in Harrisburg.

After the resolution passed, the 197 legislators in attendance gave the veterans — all from the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 92 and American Legion Post 868 in Lower Burrell — a standing ovation for their service.

“When it passed and they all stood up for us, it brought tears to my eyes,” said Navy veteran John Grose of Arnold. “We've been waiting so long for something like that.

“This started with us, but it's going to benefit Vietnam vets all across Pennsylvania.”

Gianotti began lobbying for the designation five years ago. The Army veteran first approached John Pallone, Evankovich's predecessor in the 54th Legislative District, to pass a bill designating March 30 as an annual holiday.

The date coincides with the day in 1973 when the last American boot was lifted from Vietnamese soil.

In 2010, Pallone drafted a bill that passed in the House, but fell flat in the state Senate.

When Evankovich took over later that year, Gianotti continued lobbying. Evankovich agreed last year to draft a House resolution to establish the 2014 date as “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day,” rather than proposing a bill to establish the date as an annual holiday.

Resolutions need only support from either the House or Senate to be approved.

“It's difficult to pass a bill like that into law, because there's a lot of sensitivity opening the door to what gets made an annual holiday,” Evankovich said. “I'm in favor of doing that here, but I'm happy that everyone got on board at least for 2014. You could tell it was really important to the guys.”

Gianotti said he will continue to fight to make Pennsylvania the 18th state that celebrates the day annually.

“(Wednesday was) a step in the right direction,” he said. “It's an important day, but we're going to keep working and take our fight to Washington to make it a national marker.”

This year, Gianotti will celebrate “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day” the same way he does every Veterans Day — at the Pittsburgh Mills LongHorn Steakhouse in Frazer for steaks and beers with Vietnam veterans only.

“We need to stick together,” he said. “We went through a lot over there and we're all brothers. We're treated differently than any other group of veterans.”

Gianotti sai he spent the majority of his time in Vietnam serving in an Army logistical unit in northern Da Nang on the eastern coast. The area off Da Nang Bay earned the infamous nickname “Rocket Alley” for the frequency with which Viet Cong soldiers would fire rocket-propelled grenades.

Gianotti, who is a disabled veteran, became a certified veteran service officer last year after years of helping veterans maneuver through government bureaucracy for health care, disability help and pensions. The certification allows him to fill out forms for veterans and direct them to appropriate veteran services.

“I always want to be there for fellow Vietnam vets, which is part of the reason I took on this effort to get the resolution done,” he said. “When I looked around and saw some of the older guys getting emotional, I knew I was right to fight for it.”

Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or bashe@tribweb.com.

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