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Vietnam vets and family honor LI service members on 50th anniversary of war's start

Mike Ronan of Baldwin stands with fellow members

Mike Ronan of Baldwin stands with fellow members of the patriot guard during the Vietnam War 50th commemoration ceremony held at Pinelawn National Cemetery in East Farmingdale on Saturday, June 20, 2015. Credit: Steve Pfost

The contradictions of the Vietnam War sprang forth Saturday, as officials noted veterans waited far too long for public accolades.

"We have a rare opportunity to back up a page of history and right a wrong by properly honoring our veterans and their families," retired Army Major Gen. Anthony R. Kropp, a Vietnam veteran, told the crowd of about 200 who turned out at Long Island National Cemetery, Pinelawn, despite gray skies and the threat of rain.

Grief, pain and a sense of betrayal still ran deep on the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the war.

"This was long overdue; I lost a lot of good old friends there in Vietnam," said Fred Fratello, 67, of Center Moriches.

He and his brother, Liborio, born just 10 months apart, both enlisted in the Air Force and became airmen first class.

Liborio was exposed to Agent Orange -- and died 10 years ago.

"It's a lot of mixed emotions; our country didn't treat us the way we wanted," his brother said.

Richard Kitson, president of Suffolk's Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 11, saluted the 58,000 servicemen and women who gave their lives for "freedom, justice and peace."

More than 500 Long Islanders were killed, and others are missing in action, he said.

Because the war was so unpopular, returning veterans received a chilly if not hostile reception, unlike the parades held for their predecessors. Even some veterans of previous wars spurned them.

"The legacy the Vietnam veterans would like to leave is that never again will our veterans forget one another," Kitson said. "We cannot let this happen to our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans."

Kitson, who grew up in Levittown, was a Marine Corps corporal.

He begged his younger brother not to follow suit -- to no avail.

John Francis became a machine-gunner, dying at 19 in 1969. "My best friend is interred here," his brother said.

After he was drafted, Willie Oxendine III of Farmingdale joined the Marines, just like his father, recalled his mother, Dorothy, 88, former president of Gold Star Mothers.

But his military career was cut brutally short. "He was only there for six weeks" when the 21-year-old was killed in 1968, she said.

CORRECTION: An incorrect title for Anthony R. Kropp appeared in an earlier version of this story.

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