His eyes opened wide with amazement. He smiled, but impatiently peered over the dozens of men standing before him, waiting to enter the University of Toledo’s Savage Arena.
Rex Fulk, 59, of Toledo had the look of somebody who had been waiting for this moment his entire life. He practically had been.
Mr. Fulk was among nearly 200 Toledo-area Vietnam War-era veterans who were recognized and honored — many for the first time ever — during a ceremony Wednesday night.
“I don’t know if I really belong here,” Mr. Fulk said nervously, as he started to have self-doubts while standing in line. “I didn’t see combat like a lot of the guys here did. They were the real heroes. They’re the ones who really deserve this.
“I was doing more covert stuff. Chasing subs and things like that.”
Mr. Fulk served in the U.S. Navy from 1971 to 75. Like hundreds of thousands of other soldiers, he served, but did not see combat in Vietnam. For some veterans, that has always been a contentious issue.
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Not for the organizers of Wednesday’s Opening Ceremony and Honor Roll Call — who welcomed all Vietnam-era veterans. Each veteran received a commemorative coin and were asked to dip a thumb or hand into paint and leave their imprint on a large canvas, whose picture when completed will look like the United States flag.
The creation will be put on display throughout Lucas County, organizers said.
The tone was set early by University of Toledo President Lloyd Jacobs and Toledo Mayor Mike Bell, who made it clear in their opening remarks that “everyone” had an important role to play, regardless of whether they saw combat.
Mayor Bell, who acknowledged the recognition was shamefully long overdue, asked the Vietnam War veterans in the audience to forgive Americans, including himself, for failing to show them support and compassion when they really needed it — during and right after the war.
“We hope you find it in your hearts to forgive us and allow us [to] honor you and celebrate your service to this nation, and to begin to try and make up what’s owed to you.”
The Honor Roll Call kicks off a list of activities that runs through Sunday.
The Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall, a replica of the permanent Vietnam Memorial Wall located in Washington, D.C., will go on display at International Park beginning at noon today.
The wall exhibit includes the names of every soldier killed during the Vietnam War.
Other events scheduled throughout the week include a vintage military vehicle display at International Park that will include Jeeps, an ambulance, and various trucks, co-director Duke Wheeler said.
A Landing Vehicle Transport, which was used to transport soldiers to shore, will also be on display.
Approximately 350 friends, family members, and community supporters attended the veterans’ honor ceremony on Wednesday.
Julian Briceno, 13, of Toledo was in the audience to show support for his grandfather, Rolando Briceno, who served two tours in Vietnam.
“I’m proud that he served our country,” said Julian, who wore a T-shirt that read: “My grandfather is a Marine.”
“I’m glad that he’s here, and that he survived.”
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