'You have to tell the stories,' Pittsfield mayor says at event honoring Vietnam veterans
PITTSFIELD — During the Vietnam War, 27 military members from Berkshire County were killed in action.
On Saturday, they once again were honored, during a National Vietnam War Veterans Day ceremony at Park Square — the 43rd such event to recognize their service, sacrifice and memory.
In March 1965, the first 3,500 U.S. troops landed in South Vietnam.
"Ten years later, when the Vietnam War officially ended, nearly 5 million American military personnel had been on the ground, in the air, on rivers and in the sea," Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer said during the event.
Tyer's father is an Air Force veteran who was stationed in Thailand during the war. He told his daughter that, each morning, he would count the planes taking off and count them again when they returned two hours later, trying to determine whether everyone survived their mission.
More than 58,000 military personnel didn't.
And like many women at the time, Tyer's mother wore a silver bracelet to honor a then-serving member of the military. The bracelets, which bore a service member's name, would be worn until they returned home or were declared dead.
In her speech, Tyer recalled watching television, seeing soldiers coming home, and asking her mother if any of them were Marine Corps Capt. Frances Visconti, the man whose name was on her mother's bracelet.
Visconti had no relationship to Tyer's family, but Tyer wore that silver bracelet Saturday in his honor.
"Homecomings were a painful experience for many of our American heroes," Tyer said.
Politicians, community members and veterans, some wearing military attire, filled Park Square for the ceremony, which included prayer, taps and a literary reading.
As he does at veterans ceremonies in Pittsfield, 94-year-old World War II veteran Anthony Pastore sang the national anthem, holding his note on "land of the free."
Tyer, who profiled four men in her address, including Visconti, who died in the war, said that each year, the city of Pittsfield provides local veterans more than $1 million in benefits. Additional money is allocated by Pittsfield to veterans of nearby towns that are underfunded, she said.
Tyer fought back tears at the end of her speech. Afterward, as members of the public chatted in the park, which was dotted with nine colorful wreaths, people lined up to thank the mayor for her words.
"Some years, it's harder than others," Tyer told one man, about having to speak about soldiers who died in action.
"You have to tell the stories. It's how we remember."
Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.
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