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'Vietnam Revisited' Educates Public While Honoring Veterans

by on July 21, 2014 6:30 AM

Pennsylvania Military Museum educator Joe Horvath crawled on his belly through the dirt, sweeping the ground in front of him with a stick to check for booby traps.

Moving through the underbrush next to the museum in Boalsburg over the weekend, each distant movement may have been the Viet Cong and each breeze may have carried the wafting smell of napalm.

On the museum lawn on Saturday and Sunday, military reenactors guided visitors on a trip into a not-so-distant past with the sixth annual “Vietnam Revisted” event. A bivouac of canvas tents housed soldiers and nurses. New recruits were taught proper weapon maintenance.

Just outside the camp on Sunday morning, Horvath led State College residents Sam Emel and his son, Sam Emel III, on a scouting mission through a path in the woods around the museum. He guided them past booby traps, teaching them how to silently navigate the terrain to avoid drawing attention from enemy forces.

The elder Emel and his son have been coming to Vietnam Revisited, along with the museum’s other summer events, for the last several years. A former military reenactor himself, Emel says events like this provide a unique opportunity to experience the past.

“It makes history three dimensional,” he says.

For Boalsburg resident and Vietnam War veteran Richard Dunkel, Vietnam Revisited and events like it reveal interesting truths about this country and its history. He thinks many people are unaware of “just how rotten veterans were treated” when they returned from Vietnam.

“A lot of the time, the only people that welcomed you home was your family,” Dunkel says. 

Though the recent Veteran’s Affairs medical care scandal shows that veterans still face difficulties, Dunkel says events like Vietnam Revisited show “people are starting to understand us now.”

Thomas Gray, founder of the Greater PA Military Preservation Association, has helped lead a company of reenactors in Vietnam Revisited for the last six years. For him, educating the public by recreating history is a way of honoring America’s veterans. 

Gray realizes “it’s not possible to truly recreate war.” When he first started the preservation association, he worried people might see it as “just dressing up and playing,” rather than as a sincere tribute. In the time since, both his organization and Vietnam Revisited have grown more popular each year.

“This year’s crowd is the best one we’ve ever had,” Horvath says.

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Michael Garrett is a freelance reporter who covers a wide range of assignments for StateCollege.com.
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