AUGUSTA — Veterans and their families, politicians and others gathered under gray skies Sunday afternoon in Capitol Park for one of the 50th anniversary commemorations of the Vietnam War.

The backdrop was the Maine Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a cutout silhouette of larger-than-life soldiers.

Almost all the speakers talked of the national regret today about the way soldiers returning from Vietnam — and just about all military of that era —were treated stateside, a sharp contrast to the personal and the ceremonial welcoming home ceremonies of today.

“For all of you who served in Vietnam, I want to apologize to you for the way you were treated when you came home,” said Gov. Paul LePage. “It was totally, totally inappropriate.”

That apology carried great weight for Marc Nadeau of Hallowell, who was a U.S. Army infantryman in Vietnam from March 1969 to May 1970, the height of troop levels in Vietnam. “It really touched me when he apologized for the way we returned. It was a heartfelt apology.”

Nadeau said he got to Vietnam shortly after his unit was devastated in a Tet offensive. He spent much of his time in rural areas.

“I feel God protected me the whole time I was there,” he said.

His return from the battlefield was swift and unheralded by war protesters or anyone else.

“I came in at 3 a.m. at Fort Lewis, Washington, and by 7 a.m. I was processed and in civvies.”

It was also unassisted by any kind of opportunity to decompress from what he had been through in Vietnam.

“We went cold turkey back to our families,” he said. Nadeau added that he later worked with many others who had served and suffered more in Vietnam in his later job as a veterans benefits counselor for the state.

He suffered a single bout of malaria after his return and said the VA took care of him.

Democratic Congressman Michael Michaud, who is angling for LePage’s job this fall, said he was humbled to see so many veterans at the ceremony and thanked them and their families for their service to the country.

“Just like the wars of today, it’s critical to separate the war from the warriors,” Michaud said, adding, “We don’t send them as Republicans or Democrats or independents. We send them over there as Americans.”

Don Andrews, of Augusta, who served as a Seabee in the U.S. Navy, recalled his return from Vietnam in 1971. “When we came back it wasn’t nice,” he said Sunday. “They’d throw stuff at you.”

At the ceremony, he stood next to his sister, Dixie Leavitt, whose husband, Tech. Sgt. Theodore R. Leavitt, a fellow Vietnam veteran, died in May. Leavitt spent 20 years in the Air Force as a firefighter and fire inspector.

Dixie Leavitt carried a color photo of her late husband and a yellow rose.

“This would have meant a lot to him,” she said. “He had a very hard time with how he was treated. He had a really hard time dealing with it.”

However, that changed in more recent years, she said, as more people thanked him for his service and as he spoke with friends returning from military service in Iraq.

Leavitt died in the new hospice unit at the VA Maine Healthcare Facility at Togus. He had previously spent 15 years working at the hospital, retiring in 2003.

“They treated him wonderfully out there,” Dixie Leavitt said. “He was treated with honor and respect.”

Joseph Arsenault of Livermore Falls who served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam in 1968, recalled getting off a bus in the middle of the town of Mexico. “There was nobody around. The only ones to greet me were my parents and my brother,” Arsenault said.

He came to the ceremony in hopes of finding fellow veterans whom he had met in the service and he wanted to hear LePage. “He’s got my vote,” Arsenault said. “I’ve been waiting anxiously to check the box.”

Cheryl Swift, regent of the Koussinoc Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, which hosted the ceremony, told those gathered that she had served stateside during the Vietnam War. She asked them to remember the more than 340 Mainers who died in Vietnam. Swift previously said the DAR wanted to thank the Vietnam veterans.

“When they came home, they were called baby killers,” she said. “They were made to feel guilty for doing something they were forced to do.”

Other groups helping at Sunday’s commemoration to recognize the veterans for their service were the American Legion and the Patriot Guard Riders.

Peter Ogden, director of the state Bureau of Veterans’ Services, read off the names of the first three men from Maine who died in Vietnam, all in 1964.

The second name was Roger Edward Gauvin, a captain in the U.S. Army, who was killed on March 15 that year. He was from Caribou.

Don Taylor, of Mount Vernon, a Vietnam-era veteran who served as company commander and training officer from 1960 to 1967 at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, remembered having coffee with Gauvin just a week prior to that in Fort Sill, Okla. “He was home on leave,” said Taylor, now 76.

He stood with David Nevedomsky of Winslow, Taylor’s friend and fellow participant in Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, which provides injured soldiers and disabled veterans opportunities to fly fish. Nevedomsky was in the U.S. Army from 1972 to 1975 and among the last of the soldiers to serve in Vietnam.

Under a presidential proclamation, the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War runs for 13 years until Nov. 11, 2025.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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