Local veterans pose for a group photo on the steps of the monument at Sea Isle City's Veterans Park.


Joe McLenaghan, dressed in his green U.S. Army uniform then, was not given a hero’s welcome when he arrived at Philadelphia International Airport in 1970 after serving in the Vietnam War.

“It was a very subdued homecoming. I remember landing at Philly International. You were just another face in the crowd,” he recalled.

Yet things changed later that day when McLenaghan boarded a trolley at 69th Street in Philadelphia to head home to Havertown, Pa. After speaking to a woman who asked about his military service, McLenaghan was approached by a man on the trolley.

“He shook my hand and told me, ‘Thank you for your service, and welcome home.’ That’s what I’ll always remember the most about that day,” McLenaghan said, smiling.

That memory came rushing back to him on Friday when Sea Isle City commemorated National Vietnam War Veterans Day with a poignant ceremony at Veterans Park.

VFW Post 1963 Commander Joe McLenaghan, left, exchanges a salute with fellow veteran John Felicetti during a wreath-laying ceremony.

The 75-year-old McLenaghan, who now serves as commander of Sea Isle’s VFW Post 1963, stepped up to the podium during the ceremony and looked out at his fellow Vietnam veterans sitting in the audience.

“I would like to say to all my brothers and sisters who spent time in Vietnam, ‘Welcome home!’” he boomed into the microphone.

McLenaghan noted that Vietnam veterans have waited many years to hear those words. He was referring to the stark differences in the way the country treats its veterans as heroes these days, but viewed them as outcasts during the tumultuous Vietnam era.

In his remarks, McLenaghan said he has been reading about veterans and discovered that five simple words make them feel most appreciated when people approach them in public.

“Thank you for your service,” McLenaghan said of the five words. That’s all it takes to make us feel good – Thank you for your service.”

Mayor Leonard Desiderio delivers keynote remarks.

Sea Isle has commemorated National Vietnam War Veterans Day for the last seven years. Mayor Leonard Desiderio pledged that Sea Isle will continue to honor local veterans with the ceremony each year.

“We will do it forever,” he said.

During keynote remarks, Desiderio asked the veterans sitting in the audience to stand up so that they could be recognized. The crowd applauded and cheered.

Desiderio noted that the names of nearly 60,000 U.S. service members who died in the war are etched into the granite panels that comprise the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

“Each veteran must never be forgotten,” he said.

Desiderio referred to the cold reception and hardships Vietnam veterans suffered in the 1960s and 1970s when they returned home from the war.

Now, it is important for the nation to honor and remember all of the veterans to let them know that their service “mattered,” he stressed.

“Let’s never forget that one way we can honor those who lost their lives during the war is to honor those who survived the war,” Desiderio said.

From left, veterans John Felicetti, Frank Diamond and Michael Rodgers salute or place their hand over their heart during the playing of the national anthem.

McLenaghan served in the Army in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970. He was a flight engineer aboard the big CH-47 Chinook helicopters that would bring food, water, ammunition and other supplies to the troops on the ground.

In recent years, he has often appeared with VFW Post 1963’s Honor Guard to carry the American flag during the Memorial Day, Veterans Day and National Vietnam War Veterans Day ceremonies in Sea Isle, as well as in parades.

After delivering his remarks at Friday’s ceremony, McLenaghan accepted a wreath decorated in carnations from fellow veteran John Felicetti and placed it at the memorial in Veterans Park. Both men exchanged salutes during the wreath-laying ceremony.

The ceremony also included the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance, prayers from United Methodist Church Pastor Melissa Doyle-Waid, the singing of patriotic songs led by Kathy Wilson and the solemn sounds of a bagpipe played by Sea Isle volunteer firefighter Ron Taylor.

In a touching tribute to close the ceremony, Taylor played “The Bells of Dunblane” on the bagpipes to honor the veterans. Part way through the song, he stepped away from the ceremony but continued to play while walking along the street. The mournful wail of his bagpipes filled the air in the distance.

The same gesture of bagpipers walking away from a ceremony is done during memorials for fallen heroes. It symbolizes the burying of the dead, and the living heading back into battle after attending the memorial.

Ron Taylor plays the bagpipes to close out the ceremony.
Members of the VFW Post 1963 Color Guard display the flags.