B y Derek Liebig
Jerry Austin remembers the first time he read his name on the veterans’ monument in Riverside Veterans Memorial Park.
Although he was years removed from a two-year deployment in Vietnam, thoughts of the war still weighed heavily on the former Marine. Reading his name on the monument, however, proved to be cathartic.
“When they put the wall up, I stopped by to see it and there was this feeling of closure,” Austin said. “I had this void in my life. And when they put up that wall and I went and found my name and saw it, there was some closure. It’s a great thing.”
On Monday, Austin, commander of the Washington County Legion, returns to the park and will serve as the distinguished speaker for Whitehall’s annual Veterans Day Ceremony.
This year’s ceremony will be held at its traditional time, 11 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 11, at the park.
During the ceremony, members of American Legion Post 83 will recognize a handful of veterans whose names will be added to the monument while paying homage to all of Whitehall’s veterans. Legionnaires will also dispose of unserviceable flags.
Austin, who lives with his wife Gail in North Pawlet, Vt., has been a member of Granville American Legion Post 323 for 14 years and has served as 1st Vice Commander and treasurer among other positions. He is also the chaplin of the Legion Riders, a motorcycle club consisting of veterans from Post 323.
A retired Dairy Nutrition Specialist and certified crop advisor, Austin grew up on a farm near the Valley View Golf Course on County Route 12 and graduated from Whitehall in 1964.
He enlisted in the Marines through an early enlistment program during his senior year in high school and was deployed to Vietnam in 1965, the first year regular U.S. combat units were deployed regularly into the country. He spent most of that year and all of 1966 in Vietnam, serving as a guerilla warfare instructor.
From 1966 to 1967, he served in the Sixth Fleet guarding ports along the Mediterranean Sea before completing his term of service.
Austin admits he initially had a hard time readjusting to civilian life.
“It was hard adjusting from a combat-like environment to what’s back here,” Austin said. He said loud noises startled him for years and remembers he and three other veterans leaping under a bed at the armory after hearing a loud bang.
“I couldn’t explain all the things I saw,” Austin said.
Austin, who was named Washington County and Post 323 Legionnaire of the Year in 2008-09, said he is looking forward to speaking in his hometown.
He said the number of veterans in Whitehall, which he estimates at nearly 500, makes the community special.
“There’s a lot of pride in Whitehall,” Austin said. “Every community should be grateful for its veterans.”
During his speech, Austin will talk about his service and how he became a veteran.
He will also touch upon the bond that every veterans shares, regardless of when or where they served.
He said he remembers talking to a neighbor who served during World War I and although they served nearly 50 years apart, they shared a common experience.
“It isn’t what you did. Everyone took the same the oath to protect and defend the United States of America. Anybody who took that oath and put on the uniform is a hero as far as I’m concerned,” Austin said.