South Boston’s Vietnam veterans memorial rededicated

By Aimee Ortiz Boston Globe Correspondent, September 20, 2015

Scott Thomas Corey didn’t know the names of his father’s friends, but he knew where they died — in the jungle and the prison camps of Vietnam.

His father, Sergeant Thomas A. Corey, made it home. But he seldom spoke about the Vietnam War, and so his son didn’t know the names of his father’s comrades who never came back.

So on Sunday, Scott Corey stood before a traveling replica of the national Vietnam Veterans Memorial in South Boston and read all 58,000 names of the service members who died in the war. It took him two hours.

“We were planning to go [to the national memorial], but the time just never came up,” Corey said in a phone interview. His father died about seven years ago.

Corey was among those who were visiting the American Veterans Traveling Tribute wall, a half-size replica of the memorial in Washington. The Traveling Wall was in Medal of Honor Park, near the South Boston Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which was being rededicated Sunday. It was the 34th annual rededication of that memorial, which honors 25 South Boston men who never returned.

In addition to public figures like Mayor Martin J. Walsh, Governor Charlie Baker, US Representative Stephen F. Lynch, and state Senator Linda Dorcena Forry, this year’s rededication was attended by recipients of the Medal of Honor, who were in town for the Congressional Medal of Honor Society’s convention.

“As many of you know, when we came home, our government turned their back to us, even the veterans’ organizations turned their back to us,” said Medal of Honor recipient Thomas G. Kelley. A Boston native, Kelley served in the Navy in Vietnam and later as the head of the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services.

Kelley said that it wasn’t until the 1981 construction of Boston’s memorial, the first Vietnam memorial in the country, that the US Department of Veterans Affairs and other veterans organizations began to take an active role in helping Vietnam veterans.

In his remarks, Walsh highlighted the heroism and bravery of the Medal of Honor recipients, as well as their comrades in the armed forces.

“South Boston is a community that never forgets the fallen,” Walsh said in an interview. “It’s important to show your respect. If it weren’t for the fallen heroes of this country, I wouldn’t have the opportunity, maybe, to serve as mayor.”

Baker, the first sitting governor to attend the rededication ceremony, told the Medal of Honor recipients that there is always a “welcome mat” for them in Boston.

Army veteran John Caputo also visited the Moving Wall on Sunday to honor his fallen friends. 

Drafted in 1969. Caputo, a sergeant, served in Vietnam for 16 months. He said it was 40 years before he received the help he needed.

“We came home, here to South Boston, and blended in with the scenery here. There were no parades, no parties, there was no celebrations because we came home individually,” Caputo said. “Today, guys are sent over with units, but during the Vietnam conflict, you were sent over as an individual.”

Caputo explained that he got through the years after the war by spending time with his friends who had also served.

“We commiserate with each other,” he said. “We all just hung around with each other and that’s how the development of our memorial evolved. Those five friends who decided that enough was enough, they were going to do something to honor our 25 friends.”

Behind him, at the wall, memorials to the fallen were laid out: a pair of ice skates, a poem, a soldier’s helmet. Families etching names, and others reflecting just as they had been urged to do. And Scott Corey, reading names.

Aimee Ortiz can be reached at aimee.ortiz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @aimee_ortiz.

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