Westmoreland Vietnam group supports all vets
These are the qualities the men who belong to the Vietnam Veterans of Westmoreland County have found and celebrate.
Many of them keep coming back for the feelings of ease they have with each other that they can't find anywhere else.
“It started as a self-help group in the early ‘80s,” said president Bill Albright of South Huntingdon, who served in Vietnam from 1971 to 1972.
“We weren't well received. We couldn't join the VFW. This group was formed to talk and get over whatever problems we had,” Albright said.
He said now the group focuses on doing what they can for all veterans.
They help other organizations and are involved with parades and other events.
The group has been holding an annual Tet Party to celebrate the lunar New Year for the past 15 years.
In 2000, the group dedicated a memorial at Twin Lakes Park listing the names of all those from Westmoreland County who died in Vietnam. It was rededicated in 2010.
Albright's wife, Janice, along with Sharon Kelley, compiled the list of the fallen soldiers and their biographies and placed it on the group's website.
For the original dedication, they provided Memorial Books complete with photos.
The list totals 97.
“This is for the veterans who never made it home,” said Janice Albright, a former librarian. “At least they're getting recognized on a website and memorial.”
Albright said she was able to get in touch with many family members to provide lengthy biographies. But in some cases a soldier's loved ones could not be located.
“I have two children who served in the military,” she said. “It's hard to look at how young some of them were.”
Danny Sager of South Huntington, a group member since 1984, grew up with one of the men on the memorial list.
“Everybody knows somebody who's on that list,” Sager said.
Sager, vice president of the group, said there are more than 100 members, although the meetings now draw between 10 to 20 attendees.
“We always tell everyone family comes first; it depends on who can make it. We're all in there as a team,” said Sager, a former Navy SEAL who was discharged in 1969.
Bill Shupe of Smithton, treasurer of the group, has been coming for more than 25 years. He said he enjoys being with other veterans.
“I have a strong sense of patriotism,” he said. “I take that for granted. The Fourth of July is a big deal around here. We have a party and invite everyone from the group.”
Shupe served in the infantry division of the Army in Vietnam from 1968-1969.
“We're all getting older,” said Shupe. “A lot of guys have died.
“I don't know how much longer we'll be able to continue,” he said.
Albright said the group welcomes social members.
Michele Stewardson is a freelance writer.