BR riverfront ceremony honors Vietnam veterans

The USS Kidd Veterans Memorial and Museum honored Vietnam War veterans Saturday with an outdoor celebration on Baton Rouge’s riverfront filled with live music, food and emotional remarks delivered by armed forces men and women.

The Kidd’s second annual “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans” ceremony featured an address by retired Army Brig. Gen. Sherian Cadoria, a decorated member of the Women’s Army Corps who volunteered to serve in the controversial war.

“Other than nurses, women had to volunteer to go to Vietnam — and then you had to be selected,” Cadoria told the crowd attending the gathering.

Cadoria called her service during the Vietnam War “a journey to success” driven by her inability to accept “no” throughout her 29-year military career.

“I learned to never cry in front of men,” she said. “Men looked at me as if I was a snake that had crawled out from under a rock.”

But Cadoria recalled she did shed tears as she arrived in the United States after completing her Vietnam tour of duty and was told at a port of debarkation to toss her Army uniform in the trash.

“Each vet here today that served in that unpopular conflict, you were ready to defend freedom,” Cadoria said. “We have freedom because of men and women who were so willing to sacrifice for a country that treated us like outcasts. We have a special bond that can never be severed. When this country said they needed us, we were there.”

Cadoria said she served in Vietnam from January 1967 until October 1969.

The Marksville native and Southern University graduate was assigned to the office of the Army’s Vietnam Provost Marshal and the Qui Nhon Support Command.

She was awarded three Bronze Stars and an Air Medal for meritorious service at Cam Ranh Bay, according to her biographical profile.

In 1985, she became the first black female officer to serve as a director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and first woman inducted into the Louisiana Veterans Hall of Honor.

She retired from the military in 1990.

“A lot of fine women are forgotten that served in this war,” Sam Caruso, a retired petty officer with the U.S. Navy, told the audience of veterans and their families and friends who attended Saturday’s ceremony inside the black granite walls of the Louisiana Memorial Plaza.

Caruso, also a Vietnam veteran, served as chairman of the event’s organizing committee.

Despite a gloomy sky threatening rain, the Riverfront Plaza on the downtown levee was dotted with vendors and many lawn chairs brought by people munching on hamburgers and funnel cakes while they enjoyed the jubilant sounds of Big River Express.

The hour-long ceremony featuring Cadoria as guest speaker served as the highlight of Saturday’s celebration.

Caruso said the annual events seek to give Vietnam veterans the recognition they never received when they returned home from the war three decades ago.

“There was just a lot of resentment toward us,” he said. “The public has changed now.”

Maury Drummond, executive director of the USS Kidd Memorial and Museum, further elaborated on Caruso’s sentiments.

“I speak to a lot of returning vets from Iraq and Afghanistan,” Drummond said, “and they’re not accosted in airports or spit on and called baby killers.”