By LARRY HOBBS email@example.com
Brunswick resident Willie Troupe served aboard the heavy destroyer USS Rochester when it chugged up the Saigon River in Vietnam.
"They didn't tell us what we were going for," said Troupe, 83, and better known these days as the friendly, front-end employee at Winn Dixie on Altama Avenue. "But I know we had our guns trained on those jungles on both sides."
According to an online history of the USS Rochester, the trip was a show of force and support for the beleaguered French forces struggling to preserve South Vietnam from encroaching Communist North Vietnam. It was the largest ship to enter the Saigon River when it made the mission in January of 1954.
Most folks may not recall that the U.S. military was already involved in Vietnam by the 1950s, but the local office of the Georgia Department of Veterans Service has not forgotten. Troupe is among 70 local Vietnam War veterans whom the local office hopes to add to its list of honorees for a ceremony set for March 23 at College of Coastal Georgia. Some 35 local veterans already have committed to attend the ceremony, which will recognize those who served in Vietnam from June 1, 1954 to May 15, 1975.
Georgia Commissioner of Veterans Service Mike Roby will be on hand for the ceremony, which takes place at 6:30 p.m. at the campus's Southeast Conference Center. Also on hand will be Brunswick Mayor Cornell Harvey, himself an Air Force veteran.
The public is encouraged to attend, said Tina Herring, office manager of the Georgia Department of Veterans Service in Brunswick. The 70 men and women on the list represent many of those have not attended previous local ceremonies honoring Vietnam Veterans, including one last November and two others in 2015, Herring said.
The Veterans Service Office is reaching out to these individuals and hopes they will respond so that officials will be prepared to honor them at the ceremony, she said. These Vietnam veterans can call 262-2345.
The veterans will receive a Vietnam War Certificate of Honor and a lapel pin issued by the Defense Department in recognition of their service, Herring said.
Officials hope the ceremony makes up in some way for the cold shoulder many Vietnam Veterans received upon their initial return from the war.
"Most of the veterans during that time were not welcomed back or sufficiently thanked for their services" Herring said. "We want to give these Vietnam Veterans the recognition they are due. We'd love to have a lot of veterans come out and be recognized. And it's also a good opportunity for the public to come and say thanks to these veterans."
Troupe was happily surprised to see his name of the list of Vietnam Veterans the local Veterans Service Office was trying to reach. He hopes to be able to attend the ceremony.
"It makes me feel good that they're thinking about us," Troupe said.