Carlton Noyes wrote to American Legion National Commander Denise H. Rohan about his desire to purchase and display the military division flags that each Vietnam veteran residing at the Bedford VA in Massachusetts served under. Rohan stood alongside those 19 flags on April 5 as she greeted Noyes and other Vietnam veterans, including Department of Massachusetts members, during a ceremony that recognized their military service and commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.
“Welcome home to all of you Vietnam veterans,” Rohan said during the ceremony at the Bedford VA. “Thank you for your service, for being the great Americans that you are. And I want to make sure you know how proud of you we are. Welcome home.”
Rohan’s presence at the VA medical center was part of her three-day visit to the Department of Massachusetts, her 41st department to visit since she was elected national commander last September. Alongside her at the ceremony was Bedford VA Director Joan Clifford, Legion Family members and department leadership, including Past National Commanders Jake Comer and Paul Morin, Department of Massachusetts Commander Michael Davis, Department Adjutant Milton Lashus, Department Chaplain Phil Salois and Department Auxiliary President Maureen Cragen.
The ceremony began with Bedford VA volunteer and Legionnaire Kevin Dougherty singing “God Bless the USA,” and followed by Noyes leading attendees in the Pledge of Allegiance. Once remarks were given by Rohan, Clifford and Comer, Vietnam veterans in attendance made their way to the front of the room to receive a coin and pin that commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.
“You stood up when our country needed you and now it is our honor and our responsibility to ensure that you receive respect and the care that you have earned,” Clifford said. “We want to truly welcome you home. As you should have been welcomed home so long ago.”
As Noyes went to the front of the room to receive his welcome home, Rohan shook his hand near the flag that he served under – the 173rd Airborne Brigade.
Noyes raised the money needed to purchase the service flags for his fellow Bedford VA comrades, which included a donation of $1,500 from the Department of Massachusetts – the final donation needed to meet his goal. “They all served under these flags. The American Legion is proud of what we do here at Bedford,” Comer said to ceremony attendees. “I remind you all that when we hear, we forget. And when we see we remember. It’s when we do, we understand.”
Clifford commended The American Legion for meeting the needs of a veteran who reached out for help.
“The American Legion answered the call without hesitation when (Noyes) reached out for support,” Clifford said. “Partnerships like these are critical in reaching every veteran who needs our care.”
Rohan’s visit to the Bedford VA also included digging a shovel in the dirt where a gazebo will be built. The idea for a gazebo came about as a way to “do something in honor of National Commander Rohan,” Comer said. “And it finished with Home Depot. They should be commended along with the guys from District 9 (Legionnaires Steve Souza and Anthony Dias)” who connected with Team Depot in the Bedford area to make the gazebo a reality.
“We have done a lot of work with The American Legion across Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine. Our work is all for veterans and all done through volunteerism; a lot of times the Legion will be out there helping with building too,” said Carmen Fulchini, Home Depot store manager in Methuen, Mass., who is a part of The Home Depot Foundation and Team Depot, which improves the homes and lives of veterans through projects at no cost.
Groundbreaking for the gazebo will get underway once all grant approvals have been finalized.
Following her visit to the VA, Rohan traveled to Anthony-Hunt-Hamilton Post 221 in Bedford. She walked into a post decorated in red, white and blue and filled with Legionnaires, Sons, Auxiliary and Legion Riders who greeted her with a warm welcome.
“We can’t thank OC (Post 221 Commander Jon “OC” O’Connor) enough for opening up his post to us,” Comer said.
“It’s such a team here at Post 221,” O’Connor said. “I really push the Legion Family because our philosophy is that it is a Legion Family. And you see the color of these (red, white and blue) balloons? That’s what we instill in our community.”
The evening at Post 221 featured camaraderie, dinner and standing ovations for Rohan and other women veterans, including World War II Army veteran Lillian Aronson. Aronson, 100 years old, traveled from the Bedford VA with other women veterans who reside there to be a part of the celebration. Donations from the department were also presented by Rohan, Comer and O’Connor, including Child Welfare Foundation grant to the National Braille Press and $1,000 to the Fallen Warrior Memorial Fund. Chief Master Sgt. Scott Pepper, superintendent of the 66th Security Forces Squadron at Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford, accepted the Fallen Warrior Memorial Fund donation, which will support the renaming of Hanscom’s two gates to honor fallen comrades Airman 1st Class Kcey Ruiz and Senior Airman Nathan Sartain.
"The American Legion has been very supportive, and we're appreciative," Pepper said.
In her final remarks to the Legion Family at Post 221, Rohan said her visit to the department "has just been fantastic. This is what the American Legion Family is all about … taking care of one another. I hope you take a little bit of what’s inside of you and mentor others to make sure the Legion Family goes on for another 100 years. You believe in our family. You believe in what we stand for.”