The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

November 12, 2012

Counselor pays tribute to Vietnam vets

Star Beacon

CONNEAUT —  An ex-soldier who works and counsels fellows military veterans paid special notice to Vietnam-era troops at Conneaut’s Veterans Day ceremony Sunday morning.

Gini Geffert, assistant director of Lake County Veterans Service Commission, directed many of her comments to the Vietnam vets in the sizable crowd. Geffert was the guest speaker at the annual ceremony, held outside City Hall.

Vietnam veterans, at one time hesitant to seek assistance, are now stepping up and setting an excellent example for troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, she said.

“Our offices are busier than ever, and the largest group we’re helping today are the Vietnam vets,” Geffert said. “At first, they were reluctant to help, especially because they felt their government had turned its back on them.”

Since then, Vietnam-era vets have become more vocal about receiving benefits and the federal government has noticed, Geffert said. As a result, assistance may be easier for the troops who follow, she said.

“These young veterans owe a debt to the Vietnam veterans for fighting for the benefits they have earned,” Geffert said.

Ohio can take pride that it ranks among the top 10 states in services available to veterans, Geffert said. Many of these operations succeed despite relying solely on donations — not government funds — for their existence.

Military-based clubs and organizations must offer more to recruit members, Geffert said.

“These groups have to do better to maintain their memberships,” she said. “Don’t be just a bar, but a place (veterans) can come to for information.”

Geffert served stateside while in the Army, working in a clerical capacity, she said. “The only wound I received was a paper cut,” she said.

Initially, Geffert felt “humbled in the presence of wartime veterans,” but has grown to feel proud of her duty. “I am honored to stand with you today and say, ‘I am a veteran,’” she said.

Conneaut’s ceremony played out under clear skies and balmy temperatures. The program included a wreath-laying ceremony at the Veterans Memorial, songs from the First Congregational United Church of Christ choir, brief remarks from Thomas Udell, commander of American Legion Cowle Post 151, a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance by members of Cub Scout Pack 34 and children of UCC parishioners and prayers led by the Rev. Joyce Shellhammer, the UCC’s pastor.

Shellhammer, a retired teacher, said her school students would sometimes groan and grumble when time for the flag salute. It provided an opportunity for her to tell the story of Thomas Grant, a friend and the first city resident to be killed in action in Vietnam.

“He was a boy who liked to play, joke and have fun,” Shellhammer said. “But his life was cut short because he loved his country.”

So many like Grant have made such a sacrifice, Shellhammer said. “They have given life and limb to bring peace around the world,” she said.