By Mary-Justine Lanyon
War stories. They aren’t something many veterans share with their families, let alone the general public.
But at the 2021 Veterans Day observance, held at Arrowhead Ridge on Nov. 11 at 11 a.m., Nicholas Nerio, commander of American Legion Post 360, shared his experiences in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968.
After being drafted in 1966, Nerio was deployed to Vietnam after completing both basic and advanced training as a radio teletype operator.
There were four events that had a major impact on him, Nerio said. The first took place in October 1967, just two weeks after he had arrived in Vietnam and was sent to a tropical island off the coast of Chu Lai.
“Late at night the Viet Cong attacked the company,” Nerio told the crowd. “I was sleeping on my cot when I awoke to machine gun fire and mortar explosions all around me. I rolled out of my cot to the ground with my M16. I was all alone; I have no idea where the others went….
“As the mortar explosions came closer and closer and my tent started shaking, I panicked, threw down my M16, buried my face in the sand and prayed that the next shell would not hit me and that God would spare my life.”
When the next day dawned, Nerio surveyed the damage – “the VC had destroyed or damaged most of the choppers, my tent was riddled with hundreds of holes (from the mortar explosions and gun fire)… I realized as an untested soldier I performed poorly.”
Nerio went on to describe the three other events.
“Many soldiers came home physically scarred but many more of us came home scarred from within. I realized I had changed – I was no longer the innocent young man I was a year earlier.”
The observance at Arrowhead Ridge began with an opening welcome from mistress of ceremonies Gloria Loring, a prayer from Earl Ide of American Legion Post 360 and the posting of the colors by members of American Legion Post 360 and VFW Post 9624 with the Knights of Columbus Color Corps as honor guard.
The Mountain Fifes & Drums performed several patriotic songs, followed by the lowering of the flags at the veterans monument and the raising of new flags. Members of Girl Scout Troop 360 led the crowd in the pledge of allegiance.
New this year was the participation by the Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church choir, who sang the national anthem and the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” a cappella.
Each year VFW Post 9624 sponsors the Patriot’s Pen essay contest for middle school students. This year’s theme “How Can I Be a Good American?” drew 15 entries. Third place was awarded to McKenzie Horan, second to Dayra Isabelle Loera and first to Jade Briley, who read her essay. Two of the ways she is a good American, Jade wrote, is by being kind and by going to school.
Quilts of Valor were presented to four veterans: Michael Hewitt, Bob Boytor, William Jones and Johnny Hephner. Ginger Gabriel, who coordinates the Quilts of Valor program on the mountain, noted that the first quilt was given to a wounded soldier in 2003, the year her son was deployed to Iraq.
All the veterans in the crowd were recognized by branch as the choir led everyone in singing the Armed Forces medley.
The ceremony closed with remarks by Loring, who noted it was her privilege to visit with the troops in Vietnam, and a prayer from Joseph Aquino, the chaplain of VFW Post 9624.