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The Quincy Ledger, March 28, 2006

‘SLOW HEALING PROCESS’ - VIETNAM VETERANS’ SACRIFICE REMEMBERED

By DON CONKEY
The Patriot Ledger

QUINCY - As former prisoner of war Alan Brudno was remembered yesterday, his brother Robert gave speeches at ceremonies, sought out people to greet and shook countless hands.

Another brother, Steve Brudno, stayed in the background, obviously more comfortable outside the spotlight.

‘‘For me, it’s trying to forget. It’s always painful to relive these things,’’ Steve said.

That mixture of ceremonial enthusiasm and painful reflection was evident in many faces and voices throughout events marking Vietnam Veterans Day yesterday.

The event, like last year, honored Alan Brudno, who was a 25-year-old Air Force pilot flying an F-4 Phantom when he was shot down over North Vietnam in 1965.

Brudno spent 7½ years in a North Vietnamese prison. In 1973, mere months after he had been released and returned home, Brudno killed himself.

Robert Brudno spearheaded an effort to have his older brother’s name added to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington and saw that goal realized in 2004.

Last year, Vietnam Veterans Day in Quincy largely focused on Alan Brudno, sharing his story and, in a way, welcoming him home.

Yesterday, Brudno was formally honored again. The square at the corner of Hancock Street and Billings Road was named after him, with a morning ceremony unveiling a shiny new sign with his name on it.

But as the day progressed, the focus turned toward all 48 Quincy servicemen who were lost in the Vietnam War.

More than 250 people gathered at an afternoon ceremony at the Clock Tower in Marina Bay. That figure was up from the 175 or so a year ago.

Larry Norton, treasurer of the Quincy Vietnam combat veterans group and who organizes the event, said that until last year relatively few people showed up for the annual observance.

Yesterday’s turnout, coupled with last year’s, shows that there may finally be a lasting respect and recognition for Vietnam veterans in general, Norton said.

‘‘It means that there is a healing process,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s a slow healing process. But you see the families showing up. And I believe it will stay this way, with more and more people realizing what we are doing here for Vietnam veterans.’’

Mayor William Phelan said: ‘‘Quincy is forever grateful of the sacrifices made by those who enlist in military service, those that are sent to foreign lands to fight on our behalf, and especially those 48 men who have made the ultimate sacrifice and did not return home from Vietnam. Now, more than 30 years after the conclusion of the war, we gain in our appreciation for what you have done.’’

Phelan chose yesterday’s event to announce that the traveling national Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall will spend time in the city this summer.

‘‘It is my hope that it will further show our true appreciation of your sacrifice, and allows our young people an understanding of the magnitude of sacrifice of this war,’’ Phelan said.

Joseph McCain, younger brother of Arizona Sen. John McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, said, ‘‘Right now, there seems to be certainly a higher consciousness of those who served.’’

Joseph McCain was in town because he has become close friends with Robert Brudno. Joseph Galloway, author of ‘‘We Were Soldiers Once,’’ was guest speaker.

One of the day’s most stirring moments had no words attached at all: a flyover with the missing man formation, by the Air National Guard.

Meanwhile, both Robert and Steve Brudno said that, despite the mix of pain and joy yesterday, they were proud that Quincy’s recognition of what Alan Brudno went through may have fueled lasting recognition for all Vietnam veterans.

‘‘My objective today is to turn this moment of celebrity back at others, do the same for the other 47 and their families in Quincy, and Vietnam veterans everywhere,’’ Robert Brudno said.

‘‘I think people now understand that this is bigger than just about my brother. And if this spreads to other cities, and we can say it started here in Quincy, then I can see no finer monument.’’

Don Conkey may be reached at dconkey@ledger.com .

Copyright 2006 The Patriot Ledger
Transmitted Tuesday, March 28, 2006