BARNEGAT – For many veterans, the war in Vietnam was so brutal they have difficulty even talking about it.
Thy Cavagnaro doesn’t have many memories of it anymore. She just has stories her family told her. She was only 1 and a half years old. She was part of a family of five fleeing a warzone on a single motorcycle. She was the only one facing behind them. So she was the only one who watched as her house exploded. Her parents told her later that she was yelling “The fire is chasing us! The fire is chasing us!”
Her family settled in New Jersey. For a year afterward, she experienced night terrors. Those horrible details she has forgotten, but she knows there are many out there who can’t forget.
“Vietnam vets didn’t get the proper reception when they got home,” she said.
She always wanted to give thanks, but didn’t know how. Because of the way they were treated upon their return, a lot of Vietnam veterans didn’t talk about their experiences. Only in the last five years or so, did she start seeing hats or stickers.
“They had been living with that for decades,” she said. “If you were told what you did was not honorable, you wouldn’t share it except in certain company.”
A few years back, she did meet a Vietnam vet, and was able to thank him. On a whim, she asked if she could give him a hug. “Something happened. I got emotional.” It kick started a need in her to do more.
She started to ask parents of friends about what they would want to hear, as a way of thanks, and the consensus was “Welcome Home.” This was a statement they didn’t get when they did return from deployment.
So now she has a sign in her car that says “Welcome Home,” for whenever she sees a car with a Vietnam bumper sticker.
But she wanted to do more. And the best way to do more is to act locally. So, she and her husband, James, are building a monument for Vietnam veterans at Gazebo Park. This has two headstones marking other veteran contributions. It’s at the corner of Route 9 and Bay Avenue.
It would be a headstone-sized memorial, like the others. It would be facing the street so that drivers and pedestrians can see it.
They worked to get consensus with veterans as to what they would want on the memorial, even down to the color of the stone. The plan is to have it finished for Veteran’s Day, November 11.
“We wanted to make sure we won’t overshadow” the current memorials, James said. “We didn’t want to ruffle any feathers.”
Hopefully, their actions will set off a spark, Thy said. Maybe other people will start doing things for veterans. Maybe people will talk to their grandparents about what they went through.
She doesn’t want the veterans and their accomplishments to be forgotten.
The couple is funding the monument themselves. They didn’t want to ask for any contributions. If someone wants to donate to a good cause, they suggest starting with their local veterans organizations.
For more information, visit facebook.com/thanking.vietnam.veterans.in.barnegat. Veterans who are not on Facebook are encouraged to reach out to the couple at [email protected].