Fifty years ago, a group of Huntington women dedicated their time to serve soldiers serving in the Vietnam War. This month, Huntington Town celebrated those women, a memorial the women established and the veterans who served their country.
The town hosted a two-part commemorative event for the 50th anniversary of its living memorial to the local servicemembers killed in the Vietnam War.
The morning saw hundreds servicemembers across multiple branches of the armed forces and wars pour into a ballroom of the Marriott Melville, where the Island Symphony Orchestra and operatic tenor Christopher Macchio performed.
In the afternoon, a smaller crowd gathered in the Village Green, where a wreath was displayed at the plaque commemorating Huntington’s Vietnam War memorial. The cherished site dates back to June 11 1972, when the Huntington Women in Support of Our Men in Vietnam planted 49 Kwanzan cherry trees — one for every town resident who perished in the war — in the Village Green. The living memorial was recognized as the first of its kind in the nation.
Veterans Advisory Board Chairman William Ober, acting as master of ceremonies for the morning, introduced Lt. General Frank Libutti, who discussed his experiences in combat, while also sharing stories about his continued communication with those he served and memories of the fallen soldiers from his hometown of Huntington.
“Today’s 50th anniversary event and memorial that’ll follow is most appropriate because in this community, here present are all patriots,” Libutti said. “Let me talk to all the families here who lost sons, daughters, moms, dads, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, etc. during the Vietnam War. There are no words I can bring to you this moment to assuage the pain and sorrow that you felt years ago and still experience today from the loss of your loved one.
“But know this, we who served and returned will always hold them in a special place in our hearts as most honorable men and women, real heroes who gave all for our beloved country,” he added.
Huntington Women in Support of Our Men in Vietnam
In attendance for the celebration stood Linda Guido, one of the founding members of the Huntington Women in Support of Our Men in Vietnam. She explained their mission over five decades ago.
“In 1966, a woman by the name of Joy Wellman, the mother of seven children, teenagers and younger, was so disturbed by the treatment that those serving in Vietnam were receiving that she put an ad in the Huntington Penny Saver asking if there were any other women interested in forming a group of mothers, wives, sisters, etc. who would like to do something to show the young men from the town of Huntington that they were not forgotten back home,” Guido said.
That ad resulted in the formation of the apolitical Huntington Women in Support of Our Men in Vietnam. Guido said the group met monthly at the YMCA, sent appeal letters to clubs and churches to raise support and fundraised through bake sales, flea markets, dances and raffles.
“With these funds, each soldier received, at least twice a year, a five-count package of goodies which contained clean socks, decks of cards, beef jerky, note pads, anything that we could think of that would get there safely,” Guido said.
In addition to the packages and the memorial, the group serves ice cream sodas to wounded soldiers monthly at St. Albans Naval Hospital, decorates a Christmas tree in the Walt Whitman Mall with photographs of servicemembers and performs other tasks to support their hometown heroes.
Separating the war from the warrior
During his stand at the podium that morning, Major General Anthony R. Kropp discussed how people like the group of women were rare during the Vietnam War.
“What a fantastic legacy they left for us to follow,” Kropp said “The vast majority of Americans could not distinguish or separate the war from the warrior. In fact, it was the opinion of this organization of women that the millions of protesters should direct their efforts against the politicians who created this tragic war and not the servicemen who were doing their duty as ordered.”
As he addressed the Village Green crowd, the major general admired the symbolism of the poeticism of the Kwanzan cherry trees.
“It looses its blossoms at it’s peak in the spring,” Kropp said. “Just like these 49 very young men lost these lives at their peak unfortunately.”
“Huntington has set the example not only in Long Island New York, but nationally, recognizing the selfless service of the Vietnam veterans,” he added. “It’s such an incredible tribute to the Town of Huntington and such a noteworthy endeavor. All the residents should be extremely proud of it.”