There was a time when some of this week's Hometown Heroes were treated like anything but heroes when they returned home from military service during the Vietnam War. The Veterans of the Vietnam War Post 52 have worked for the last three decades to ensure other veterans don't experience the same treatment, and for that, the organization was nominated as this week's Hometown Heroes.
“I served in 1967 to 1969. I guess whenever we came home it wasn't a happy welcome home, and I definitely feel that veterans need to have the welcome home and 100 percent support of the community,” said Post Commander Delmar Preston of his own reasons for being active with the post. "They are doing a job, and it's not a fun one. I want to give them every ounce of support I can give them.”
The main purpose of the group, which is located on Dunham Road and has about 200 members, is to help veterans and veterans families, Preston said. It does so in a variety of ways, including helping with necessities such as building wheelchair ramps, helping to find the right resources for veterans and even help financially, paying bills at times. The group supports all veterans regardless of what conflict, war or time period in which they served.
Each year on the third Friday in September the post holds its 24-hour POW/MIA Vigil and Ride for Freedom. The vigil takes place in Meadville's Diamond Park.
“It's remembering all those who have been missing in action or prisoners of war or never came home, and you've got to remember Meadville has some of those,” Preston said. 'I'm still alive and I'm still healthy, and they could be alive someplace.”
Preston said it is not just an issue for Vietnam veterans.
“You have to remember there are still situations that military service people are taken in modern circumstances," he said.
Post 52 also has been responsible for bringing The Moving Wall, a replica of the Vietnam memorial in Washington, D.C., to Meadville two times — once 20 years ago as well as last year.
“I was fortunate to be involved in bringing it, and I am grateful we could get it,” Preston said.
A large project of the post is Project Support Our Troops, which for years has sent care packages to military personnel. Anyone may submit a name of someone to receive a package.
"We need all the names we can get,” Preston said.
Preston said the effort began with six or seven names, and now the group sends 50 to 75 a month. That number swells to 400 to 600 over the holiday season. The project co-chairs are Kim Lengling and Laurie Davis. Items for the packages are collected from various drop-off locations, and volunteers assemble the packages once a month.
“Anybody is welcome. They've never turned anybody away packing stuff,'” Preston said.
The post also holds weekly dinners featuring homemade items each Saturday, except holidays, at the post headquarters from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. The dinners are open to the public, and all proceeds go to supporting veterans.
“Every penny of it,” Preston said.
The post is made up of more than Vietnam veterans. While 75 percent of the board must be Vietnam veterans, it is open to anyone. Preston said he especially hopes young people with “new ideas” will join their effort.
“Any of you young veterans or young people that want to get involved in supporting our military personnel, please stop in and see us,” he said.
While the Vietnam veterans may have experienced tough times when they transitioned back into civilian life, Preston said the post appreciates the help and generosity from the local community.
“If it wasn't for this community, we couldn't exist at all,” he said.
To nominate a Hometown Hero, send a brief couple sentences why that person is deserving to email@example.com with “Hometown Hero” in the subject line. Please include a daytime phone number and email address if possible.