Vermont Honors Vietnam Casualties
by Wilson Ring
Associated Press Writer
COLCHESTER - Elderly mothers in wheelchairs and children too young to remember their fathers gathered at Camp Johnson in Colchester on Saturday to honor their relatives killed in the Vietnam War.
For some it was another occasion to honor their loss, but for others it was an occasion to revisit the grief that the decades have covered, but not cured.
Some beamed with pride as they were escorted to the podium where they received the Vermont Patriot medal from Vermont's top dignitaries. A few looked uncomfortable with the attention; a few sobbed openly.
"It's been 28 years," said Jeanne Haner, whose husband, Sanford R. Gaboriault of Franklin, was killed in action on May 6, 1968. "It gives you a sense of meaning."
One of Gaboriault's sons was there as well. He hadn't been born when his father died.
It is believed that 109 Vermonters died in Vietnam.
Vietnam veterans were at the outdoor ceremony at the headquarters of the Vermont National Guard. Many wore well-worn fatigues with the black missing-in-action patches that have come to typify the search for answers by a country still trying to find meaning in the sacrifices of Southeast Asia.
Veterans of earlier wars were there as were members of the National Guard and active duty service members.
Vermont's entire congressional delegation was there, as was Gov. Howard Dean, whose brother is still listed as missing in action from the Vietnam War.
"I think I understand the pain," Dean said. "It's been 30 years and the pain never goes away."
While the ceremony was about sacrifice, honor and loss, the controversy that plagued U.S. involvement in Vietnam was also present.
Robert Graeter of Enosburg Falls is still fighting his own Vietnam war while he tries to get the Veterans Administration to recognize that the ailment that has completely disabled him stemmed from his exposure to Agent Orange, a powerful defoliant used to clear vegetation, during his Navy service in 1966.
He sat next to Gary Greeno of St. Albans, the head of the local chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America. Greeno's cousin, Reginald Begnoche, a door gunner in a helicopter, was killed in action on Sept. 4, 1969 when he was shot down.
Begnoche was honored at the ceremony.
The 1966 Vermont Legislature authorized the presentation of the Patriot medals, but through some oversight it was forgotten until Saturday. Vermont National Guard officials say no similar medal has been presented in any other state.
U.S. Marine Col. Donald Cook is probably Vermont's most well-known Vietnam casualty. An adviser to South Vietnamese forces, he was captured on Dec. 31, 1964.
He supposedly died in captivity three years later. He gave his food and medicine to other American prisoners. In 1980 he was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
His son, W. Thomas Cook, 33, of Charlotte is the only one of Cook's relatives left in Vermont. He laid a wreath at the guard's flagpole.
"We put our lives on hold," Cook said before the ceremony. "That's how we lived from '64 to '72."