PITTSFIELD — In the 52 years since Marine Corps veteran John Harding returned from serving in the Pacific, he has noticed a real change in how the public treats service members.

Today, when Harding wears his uniform or apparel with Army insignia, young men and women will stop him on the street and thank him for his service, he said.

"We were called baby killers. ... We weren't noticed for a long time," Harding said in Park Square on Saturday morning, during a ceremony honoring Vietnam War veterans. "I'm happy with the respect now."

Veterans and their families gathered to honor the 27 Berkshire County residents who died in the lengthy war.

At the ceremony, Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 65, which sponsored the event, honored 93-year-old Anthony"Tony" Pastore for regularly singing the national anthem at its ceremonies, no matter the weather.

"You give me a great honor every time you ask me to sing for you," Pastore told Harding at the ceremony. "I will never say no to you."

In a keynote speech, retired Marine Corps veteran William "Bill" Gibney shared with the crowd the trajectory of his more than 20 years of service.

The now-84-year-old enlisted in the Marines in the early 1950s and served in the Korean and Vietnam wars, rising to the rank of master sergeant before earning a direct commission as a Marine Corps officer.

Gibney, who retired in 1970 from Camp Lejeune, N.C., and lives in Pittsfield with his wife, urged other veterans at the event to take a look at their military record and write down whatever they can remember about their service so it can be preserved for generations to come.

"My time in the Marine Corps was very interesting," he said afterward. "It was very rewarding."

Harding said that he is thankful that older veterans are being appreciated for their service time, and for receiving medical care from the Department of Veterans Affairs, but he expressed concerns that some in the generation of younger veterans coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq are not seeking out the help they need.

"War is terrible," he said. "When I came home, I got help. ... Many of us were so angry."

Harding is on the board at the Vietnam Veterans of America Pittsfield chapter and assists veterans filling out paperwork for the Department of Veterans Affairs and refers them to the outpatient clinic on Eagle Street for care.

Since President Donald Trump announced Wednesday in a tweet that he fired Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, who strongly opposed privatization of the department, there has been a national conversation about what would be best for the agency.

James Clark, veterans services officer for Pittafield, said that he opposed the complete privatization of Department of Veterans Affairs services.

"It's not the proper answer. Primary care would be fine, but not everything, because of the complexity of military-specific injuries," he said. "Total privatization would never work."

In Pittsfield, veterans are "very, very happy" with how they are served at the local clinic, he said.

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.