Putnam resident Armand LaFleur spent eight months and six days in Vietnam in 1969 as part of an infantry battalion.
He then spent five days in a hospital recovering after a landmine peppered his legs and hand with shrapnel. For his service during the war, LaFleur was awarded several citations, including a Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
On Thursday, LaFleur, 68, sat inside the Quinebaug Valley Community College auditorium and waited to be given another accolade: the Congressionally-approved Vietnam Veteran Lapel Pin.
“For me, this is about recognition and the realization that me, and all the other Vietnam War-era veterans still count,” he said. “We weren’t welcomed home with open arms. It’s only been the last few years that I’ve seen a change in attitude towards Vietnam veterans.”
LaFleur, along with 47 other veterans from all five branches of service, were given the pin by U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District. The pin, emblazoned with an eagle, laurel leaves, stripes and stars surrounded by a blue perimeter, is authorized for any veteran who served, regardless of location, during Nov. 1, 1955 to May 15, 1975.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the war’s end, a milestone Courtney said requires both recollection and recommitment concerning Vietnam War veterans health issues.
“We’ve cleared some bureaucratic obstacles, but there’s more work to be done,” he said. “There’re still restrictions keeping veterans with certain conditions from getting the help they need with issues like Agent Orange.”
Courtney noted his congressional district contains almost double the number found in other Connecticut districts.
“My hope is events like these will shine a spotlight on these folks who did a job, did what we asked them to do,” he said. “They’re owed that from a nation that honors them.”
Woodstock resident Nancy Nystrom was presented one of two posthumously-awarded pins in honor of her husband, Mark Nystrom. Nystrom, a U.S. Army artilleryman who served several months in Vietnam, died of cancer in 2001.
“He would have wanted to be here,” Nancy Nystrom said. “We met just after he got out of the service in 1966 and I know he was proud to serve his country.”
For Killingly resident Richard Adams Sr., pride took a while to embrace, at least publically. The U.S. Navy veteran built helicopter hangers as part of a Seabee unit near the city of Hue in central Vietnam.
“Vietnam veterans were never accustomed to recognition when they came home – it was a rebellious time then,” he said. “It was hard for me to be proud of my service until about 15 years ago.”
Adams said the Gulf War led to a sea change among the public perception of Vietnam War-era veterans.
“I have veterans’ plates on my car now,” he said.
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