Twenty-five Vietnam veterans from 13 different counties in New Jersey were presented state medals.
The award ceremony is part of New Jersey’s annual Vietnam Veterans Remembrance Day, which honors just some of the more than 200,000 New Jersey residents who served during the Vietnam era, from 1959 to 1975.
“Even though it’s many, many years later, to be honored for something like that is very, very special,” said Vietnam War U.S. Army veteran Jim McGinnis.
The award ceremony took place at the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Holmdel, where the names of more than 1,500 New Jerseyans who were killed or reported missing during the war are displayed. And to continue to honor their memories, on Monday former Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno announced the kickoff of what she calls the $5 million capital campaign to preserve and expand the museum.
“What we announced today is a $5 million capital campaign, that we already have almost $1 million in pledges even before we kicked it off, and so I’m confident we are going to get to the $5 million and be able to start to build out the facility that’s right behind us right now,” said Guadagno.
Generations later, Vietnam veterans say they’re gaining the respect that they weren’t given years ago, a heartfelt reception that they say they’ve waited decades for.
I’m proud to receive this medal today, but it was a tough war and we didn’t get a good welcome and that’s a fact. We wear our hats proudly, you know when we go to shopping malls because we never know who we could meet,” said Pedro Martinez, a U.S. Army veteran from Perth Amboy.
This was Martinez’s first time attending the medal ceremony, a moment that brought his daughter to tears.
“We come from a military family and my father was always proud to serve,” said daughter Diane Zazzario. “I’m proud that I come from a military family and hearing the stories, there’s one in particular I remember him mentioning, that he came home when he flew in and the airport was empty. And that’s what they came home to. He was fortunate enough that he was able to get a job and move on from the war, but today was extremely special because they are honoring and giving those veterans basically the props that they needed and they should have received 40 years ago.”