MEREDITH — ''We were like tunnel rats but we were in the water instead,'' U.S. Navy Vietnam veteran Chuck Thorndike told those attending a rain-dampened Veterans Day observance at the POW-MIA Memorial site in Hesky Park yesterday.
Thorndike was describing his service aboard a 50-foot-long Swift Boat that worked the coastal waters and rivers of Vietnam with Coastal Division 12's Swift Boat Unit, part of the so-called ''Brown Water Navy," which was used to try and halt the movement of Viet Cong troops and supplies into South Vietnam. He said it was fraught with danger, just like that facing soldiers who went into the Viet Cong's tunnel system to try and track them down.
He served in the Navy from 1967 to 1970, first as a radar man aboard the aircraft carrier Bon Homme Richard, and later aboard a Swift Boat.
He said that his experience in the war was much like that of many others who also served there and recalls that when he and others were sent home after completing their tour of duty in 1970 they were told to wear civilian clothes so that they wouldn't call attention to themselves and be confronted by Vietnam War protesters.
''It's a lot different today. Service members are greeted with thanks for their service and are proud to have served their country,'' said Thorndike.
Thorndike, the retired president of Annalee Mobilitee Dolls Co. Inc. has continued to serve his community over the years in a number of positions, including as youth league soccer and ski coach, Scout leader, Meredith Rotary member, and chairman and board member of Lakes Region Visiting Nurses and Meredith Village Savings Bank.
He said many of those he served with on the Swift Boat would later experience post-traumatic stress disorder and require the services of the Veterans Administration to help them deal with the problems, something which he said the current generation of service members deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan also face.
Thorndike said his own experience with the Veterans Administration has shown him how valuable its services are and how much they are needed by the newest generation of veterans.
The town of Meredith has created a supportive and caring environment for veterans, like the spirit shown by those who turned out on damp and drizzly day yesterday to honor veterans and thanked Bob Jones, one of the leaders in establishing the state's original POW-MIA memorial, and former Griggs-Wyatt Post 33 American Legion Cmmdr. Robert Kennelly for their roles on organizing events to honor veterans.
"Veterans Day, a time veterans and all can come together and show how we care for those who have served this country – and no community does it better than Meredith and no better place than where it's written in stone," said Bob Jones, who spoke briefly at the service next to the POW-MIA memorial in Hesky Park.
Earlier, veterans had marched from the American Legion post up Main Street to the town library, where Kennelly and fellow veteran Elliott Finn spoke after opening remarks by State Senator Jeanie Forrester, who told the veterans ''our flag flies higher and prouder because you have served.''
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