*This ceremony was conducted prior to sheltering in place and COVID-19 guidelines.
“I am honored to have been able to serve” said Thomas A. Richards, Vietnam War Veteran and Samaritan patient. Thomas A. Richards, or Tom, shared these words with the room during his Samaritan Honors Veterans ceremony. Samaritan conducts these ceremonies to show our respect and express our thanks to our veterans. Celebrating with him were Diana, Tom’s loving wife; Don D’Amato, Samaritan Veteran volunteer; and members of Tom’s hospice care team. They gathered in his home in Southampton, to celebrate and honor Tom for his service.
The Vietnam War saw 2.2 million American boys of eligible age (18-25) drafted for military service across the globe. Tom was one of these boys serving his country from 1966-1968 as a gunner on an armored personnel carrier in Northern Vietnam. Back in the US, his mother was awaiting his return.
“Tom’s mother,” said Diana during the ceremony, “must have prayed every day for him to come home.” She continued, “his mother left the Christmas tree up that [last] year until he came home the following April.” The Christmas tree could come down, as prayers were answered when Tom returned home. A loving family welcomed Tom home, but this was not the case from the public as the Vietnam War ended and veterans began to return.
A cold, public reception greeted, these boys now men, as they returned to the USA from the war. Tom upon his return, was told to “change out of uniform and put on civilian clothes.” The reception was not only cold, but disrespectful, Don explained at Tom’s ceremony, “Vietnam Veterans were spit on” and treated poorly on their return.
Tom, in spite of the treatment that he and his fellow veterans received, still feels proud to be a Vietnam Veteran. In 2019, the Vietnam War turned 50 and many people began to take the time to commemorate and properly “Welcome Home” our Vietnam Veterans. Samaritan participated in this important celebration of Vietnam Veterans by honoring Veterans in our care and through support of local events. Providing insightful reflection, Don said about Vietnam Veterans, “Hindsight is 20/20 and we finally understand what these veterans experience and gave up for us.”
Tom’s ceremony was beautiful and respectful. He was presented a Veterans certificate thanking him for his service, a Veterans pin, and a blanket. A beautiful bouquet of yellow roses, symbolizing love and appreciation to military spouses was presented to Diana. A poem for veterans was read and the ceremony concluded with Diana, a devout Catholic, saying a prayer for all veterans. Samaritan is honored to be able to care for Tom and his family.