Vets feted with dinner concert at Killingly High School

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Killingly - posted Mon., Nov. 4, 2013
Gil Simmons, Sr., and J. Richards Watkins both served in Vietnam. Photos by D. Coffey.
Gil Simmons, Sr., and J. Richards Watkins both served in Vietnam. Photos by D. Coffey.

More than 130 people attended a Veterans’ Dinner, Dessert and Concert event at Killingly High School on Nov. 1. The Danielson Rotary, Freedom Loving American Guardians, the Killingly High School student council, band and chorus joined forces to honor veterans and current military personnel. It was more than a pasta, meatball and salad dinner, more than a patriotic concert. It was a simple gesture by a group of young and old to show their respect and thanks.

“This doesn’t scratch the surface after their service,” Rotary President Mary Jane Burke said. Vets came in their uniforms and street clothes. They came with wives, husbands, family and friends. They represented servicemen and women from WWII to the present day conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Paul Tetreault wore his blue dress uniform from his time in the U.S. Air Force. He served from 1954 to 1964 in the U.S. Air Force, rising to staff sergeant. He didn’t see active combat, but he spent time in Germany and at the Pentagon. His wife Lucille joined him when he was stationed in the Philippines. “I knew my neighborhood by the huge garbage pile that the pigs ate out of,” she said. “We had to keep a 100-watt light bulb on at all times in the closets so mold wouldn’t grow on our clothes.”

They had to get married at the Arlington National Cemetery Chapel instead of in Putnam, where both were from. “The Air Force wouldn’t let me go,” he said. “In the military, you just go along.”  

William Perreault, who served in Korea from 1952 to 1953, still remembers how cold it was. “We wore Mickey Mouse boots,” he said. And he remembers the day and time he heard that the war was over for him - a Saturday at 10 a.m. “We were on our way back to the artillery zone which was five miles back from the front,” he said. “You don’t forget those things.”

“I appreciate this evening,” said Gil Simmons, Sr. He was only 18 when he made his way to Vietnam as a soldier in the Army. “I planned to make a career of it,” he said. He changed his mind after the Tet Offensive. How he was treated when he returned to the states still troubles him.

Servicemen and women traveling through airports, bus and train stations had to wear their uniforms. He was singled out for it. He remembers being taunted even by some of his military superiors. “They’d make us fall out in the morning. They’d tell one guy to take a bucket and fill it with gray stones. They’d tell another to take a bucket and fill it with white stones.”

J. Richard Watkins remembered those days clearly, too. He served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970. He wrote, “Vietnam: No Regrets,” a chronicle of his time there. “Vietnam rushed down the aisle at you when they opened the back door of the plane,” he said. “I remember the heat and the aroma.” He talked about the beauty of the land and the reality that there were people waiting to kill him there.

Howard Flexer became a chaplain after his service in Vietnam. He is a state chaplain, the Vietnam War Veterans’ chaplain, and the chaplain for Amvets Post 45. “It’s my therapy,” he said. “I still deal with the horrors of war. When I go to sleep at night I thank God I’m in a bed. In Vietnam I slept in rice paddies.”

“It’s important to remember all those who’ve gone before us and sacrificed in so many ways,” Tetreault said. 

“Why wouldn’t you do this after all the sacrifices they’ve made?” Burke said.

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