Ford City residents participate in veterans ceremony in Washington
FORD CITY — Although Nov. 11 is officially Veterans Day, in many places the entire month is set aside to honor the nation's veterans, living and dead.
Last week, two residents paid tribute to Vietnam veterans in a special way.
Harold French, a member of the American Legion Honor Guard and AMVETS Post 13, and Terry and Kim Bish traveled to Washington to read names of the veterans who died in the war.
French, accompanied by his wife Donna, traveled to Washington on Nov. 7 to read 30 names of those who died and are inscribed in the Vietnam War Memorial Wall.
“It was just fantastic,” French said. “Donna and I left at 4 a.m. I was scheduled to read my list about 7:45 p.m. Getting there early gave us a chance to visit all the war memorials. We stayed for several hours after I read, and at 9 p.m., there were still buses pulling in with people to read or just to be there.”
French said he was invited to read names at the memorial by event organizer Jan Scruggs. He had been making contributions to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund for about 30 years and his name was selected from a list of donors.
“It was the first time I was asked to read the names, “ French said. “It was the experience of a lifetime and I hope to get to do it again next time.”
Although they have been to Washington many times for different events, reading names from the wall was also a first-time experience for Terry and Kim Bish. The Bishes were invited to read by Kim Bish's niece, Nikki Mendicino. Bish said Mendicino, her sister's daughter, is from Springdale and now lives in Fairfax, Va., where she works as a veterans advocate.
“Terry and I have been to Washington five times for another veterans tribute, Rolling Thunder. But this was the first time we were asked to read,” she said.
Bish said reading of all the names takes about five days and names are read around the clock. The event is held every five years.
“We are patriots,” Bish said, “and it was an honor for us to do this. Unlike World War II and Korean War veterans, many Vietnam veterans never got the ‘welcome home' that other veterans did. Many were called names like ‘baby killers' and some were even spit on. Today, a significant number suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and some have become ill or died as a result of exposure to Agent Orange, a powerful defoliant.”
Terry Bish said he had two members of his family who died last year of complications believed due to Agent Orange exposure.
“My cousin, Andrew Stall, served three tours in Vietnam. He was a ‘tunnel rat.' He died of cancer. My uncle, Ray Berry, also died last year of cancer. Kim's uncle, Jay Smith, also died of cancer we believe was due to Agent Orange exposure. We feel we're giving these men the ‘welcome home' greeting they never got.”
This year was Mendicino's third time reading at the wall. One of the names she read was that of Kittanning native Sgt. Arlie Mangus, who is still listed as missing in action.
“It was a humbling experience,” Mendicino said. “I could not have been more humbled.”
Mendicino said the wall has more than 58,000 names of those who were killed in action and nearly 2,000 who are listed as MIA.
Tom Mitchell is a correspondent for the Leader Times.