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Thursday, April 26 News

Letter: Ex-firefighter says town snubbed vets

After many years, I need to write this.

Memorial Day will soon be upon us, and we will all meet at the firehouse, and those who have something to say will speak.

I will not be among them.

I'm a Vietnam combat veteran, two tours in Vietnam under enemy fire many times, discharged as a sergeant after four years of service in the Air Force.

In 1979 I filled out an application for the Westport Fire Department and and hoped to get three or four extra points for my military service. Most towns wanted to benefit the veteran, and that was their way of doing so. Some did more. I looked for a box to check that said "military service," thinking it would be listed among items such as college. It wasn't there.

Although lacking a college degree, I got a job. After a couple of years, I asked the firehouse didn't have an MIA flag. We never got one while I was there.

At one point, a new state law gave towns the option of letting veterans add their military service to their municipal pensions of they made monetary contributions during their employment. The powers that be at town hall told me Westport would not do it.

I was the only combat veteran employed by the Westport Fire Department and included the initials "CV" after my signature. I was told not to do that.

I'm retired now, and soon, every Vietnam War veteran will be, too. No more of those people will be asking for employment or special benefits or recognition. We can now honor all veterans without exception. I think that's the way it should be or should have been. But I may be wrong. If we checks exams for public-sector jobs, maybe we'll find that a college degree counts more than combat duty in a hostile country.

I didn't think it would be appropriate to put this kind of letter forward when Memorial Day was upon us. Sour grapes don't do well when you're trying to honor those who served in the more honorable wars. When I look at the young kids and happy mothers, I don't want to bring forward an unhappy moment.

I remember a meeting with the first selectman, specifically asking that Vietnam veterans be recognized. Nothing happened.

I meet Vietnam-era veterans every day. They're all around you, several hundred thousand.

In Westport too!

On March 18, the president awarded the Medal of Honor to a number Vietnam vets who, because of prejudice, went without recognition.

I think it would be wrong to go quietly into the night.

Some would say don't ask why, I'm asking why.

Thomas Arnold