Vietnam veterans were honored at the American Air Power Museum on Saturday. NewsdayTV's Drew Scott reports. Credit: Newsday/Kendall Rodriguez

Hands over their hearts, two dozen veterans of the Vietnam War sat in folding chairs on Saturday morning. The weighty notes of the national anthem filled the airplane hangar that houses the American Airpower Museum’s collection of aircraft and exhibits.

One by one, each veteran would approach the podium to receive a 50th Vietnam Anniversary Commemorative Medal presented by the Long Island Air Force Association — a “welcome home” they did not experience upon their return to civilian life several decades ago.

“What we’re doing is trying to honor all the Vietnam vets, because they really didn’t receive any honor when they returned home,” said association president Fred Di Fabio, a Vietnam veteran himself. “This is a welcome home for them."

Over nine years and 43 ceremonies, nearly 1,500 Long Islanders have received medals through a program sponsored by the Department of Defense, Di Fabio said.

Bob DiChiara is congratulated by his family at the Vietnam...

Bob DiChiara is congratulated by his family at the Vietnam 50th Anniversary Commemorative Medal Ceremony at the American Airpower Museum on Saturday. Credit: Linda Rosier

“The family and the wives appreciate it so much, because usually the Vietnam vets don’t talk about their past history in Vietnam,” said Di Fabio, 83, of Medford. “And it’s a chance that they open up a little bit to their families.”

Among officials in attendance at the museum in East Farmingdale was Suffolk County Executive Edward P. Romaine, who emphasized the importance of recognizing service members.

“Fifty years ago, this country was a little bit different than it is today,” Romaine said. “But the one change that I welcome in those 50 years is the respect that we now show our veterans, which sometimes was not there during the Vietnam War.”

Amid a hodgepodge of army fatigues, navy blue suits and multicolored flannels, Cam Jambor, 74, watched as her husband, Don, received his medal. Her sister, Fran Firneno, 69, of Nesconset, was by her side.

“I’m very proud of my husband, and looking at all these people who served,” said Cam Jambor, of Lake Grove. “And, it is so true what they said, you know — when they came home from Vietnam, they were ridiculed, spit at.”

Today, he wore a medal on a yellow ribbon around his neck. He could not articulate the emotions the ceremony evoked.

“I cried like a baby,” Don Jambor said.

Gray-green eyes glistening, Renee Piazza, 47, listened as her father, Bob DiChiara, 78, spoke of the importance of gatherings like this.

“There’s a certain camaraderie that exists among service members that doesn’t exist anywhere else in your life,” said DiChiara, whose eyes welled up behind sunglass lenses.

Another of DiChiara’s three daughters, Melissa McGrath, 45, said it was an honor to see her father honored.

“I also didn’t really understand fully the impact of what happened to them when they got home,” said McGrath, of Cranford, New Jersey. “I actually never knew that they were so mistreated, so I think it’s really nice that they get to do this.”


 

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