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Westmoreland Vietnam group supports all vets

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Group holds Tet Party

The Vietnam Veterans of Westmoreland County will celebrate its annual Tet Party on Saturday.

Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. at the Hempfield Hunt Club, 220 W. Pennsylvania Ave., near New Stanton.

The party celebrates victory over Viet Cong and North Vietnam forces in the 1968 Tet Offensive, a military campaign they launched as a surprise attack by ignoring a prior agreement to cease fire during the lunar New Year celebrations for the Year of the Monkey. The communists launched a wave of attacks on Jan. 30. The U.S., South Vietnam and their allies quickly contained the attacks, inflicting massive casualties.

“It's a victory we feel we never got credit for but we still celebrate,” said Bill Shupe, the treasurer of the group who served in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969.

Bill Albright, the president of the Vietnam Veterans of Westmoreland County who served from 1971 to 1972, said the group has held Tet parties for the last 15 years.

This year, the party will open with a ceremony to honor prisoners of war and those reported as missing in action, as well as a prayer for fallen comrades.

The party will feature food, an open bar, music from that era, door prizes and a 50/50 raffle.

A slide show depicting scenes from the war will be displayed.

Shupe recently produced a DVD, complete with a 50-page script, about his tour of duty. It details his experience in a battalion that suffered an enormous number of casualties.

The video, ‘Rat Tale Files' will be sold for $10, with proceeds going to the group.

“Our Tet parties still get a big crowd, but it's not like it used to be. We were in our 40s when this started out and we still had a bit of ginger,” Shupe said.

Tickets at the door cost $15 for an individual, $25 for a couple.

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By Michele Stewardson
Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013, 7:40 p.m.
 

Camaraderie. Brotherhood.

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.

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