When Victor "Chuck" Barone returned to the United States from serving in the Army in the Vietnam War, the long-time Weehawken resident wasn't exactly greeted with pomp and circumstance.
"When I came back from Vietnam, I first arrived in Seattle," Barone recalled. "And we were spit at and cursed at. In 1969, it was a very unpopular thing, to serve in the military. When we came home, we weren't treated well. There was nothing to honor us. It was sad."
Barone knew he was doing the right thing when he enlisted.
"I went into the service because I wanted to go," said Barone, who was a member of the 5th Special Service Group for four years, earning the rank of Specialist 5th Class - or "buck sergeant," in Army slang. "I grew up in a generation of World War II veterans in my family. I felt honored to serve. And I still believe I did the right thing. I don't regret any of the time I spent there. I did what I had to do and came home."
Barone doesn't like recalling the memories of the 366 days - "a year and a day," he said - he spent monitoring the mountainous areas of Vietnam.
"I don't dwell on it much," Barone said. "I tried to put all of that behind me. It wasn't easy, but I put it all in perspective."
Barone hasn't thought much about his military experience, but last week, he was among 119 New Jersey residents to receive the highest medal given to any New Jersey resident who served in the Armed Forces.
Barone, a 20-year veteran of the Weehawken and North Hudson Regional Fire & Rescue, as well as the township's recreation director, received the New Jersey Distinguished Service Medal during ceremonies, held by the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, at the VFW Post in Kearny.
Barone was one of two Weehawken residents to receive the honor, the other being Dominick DePauma, who was a Private First Class in the Army, serving in World War II.
Barone said that he was aware of the Distinguished Service Medal program, which was reinstituted by the state of New Jersey in 1998 to honor combat veterans from the state. But he believed that the recipients were mostly veterans of World War II.
"There were never many from the Vietnam War," Barone said. "When they contacted me about this award, I was pleased to be recognized. It's a little late, almost 30 years too late. But it's good to be recognized."
State Assemblywoman Joan Quigley was on hand to help distribute the medals.
"It was wonderful to see all the men come to receive their medals, with tears in their eyes," Quigley said. "They waited a long time to receive this honor. It was impressive to me how they could all still salute with pride. It's important for us to remember, especially in this time in our nation, that we've always had heroes in America."
Brigadier General Thomas Sullivan, the assistant adjutant general in New Jersey, pinned the medals on the chests of the deserving veterans.
"We have to continue to take care of the veterans of today, because we're the veterans of tomorrow," Sullivan said. "I think this was a very impressive turnout, especially with the weather [96 degree temperature]."
Both Quigley and Sullivan agreed that it was also impressive to see so many Vietnam veterans receiving their honors. Many Vietnam vets have been scorned over the years and never received the pomp and circumstance that veterans of other wars received.
"For the Vietnam vets, we finally said, 'Welcome home,'" Sullivan said. "They never heard that before. It's important to honor all vets, but especially the Vietnam vets, because they never got the respect before."
"It was impressive to see so many younger veterans, especially from the Vietnam War," Quigley said. "It's about time that they were acknowledged for what they did for our country."
Barone also thought it was long overdue.
"I think it is good for a lot of Vietnam veterans," Barone said. "Many of them still have sore feelings about the way they were treated when they came home. Some are still mistreated today by other veterans. It's really sad. But this was a nice gesture and I was honored to receive the award."
Barone said that his experiences in Vietnam changed him forever.
"I really have put it all behind me," Barone said. "I was a different person then than I am now. Life has been really good to me. I have a great wife and family. I've been blessed."
DISTINGUISHED MEDAL RECIPIENT - Weehawken resident Victor "Chuck" Barone (left) poses with his wife, Julia, after receiving the New Jersey Distinguished Service Medal last Tuesday.
Some of the Hudson County residents who received the New Jersey Distinguished Service Medal last Tuesday are:
Army Technical Sgt. Frank Daniello, World War II
Army Pvt. First Class Frank Giongrete, World War II
Army Cpl. William Perry, World War II
Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Russo, World War II
Army Technician Daniel Valente, World War II
Army Specialist Henry Kaden, Vietnam
West New York:
Army Technician James Belveduto, World War II
Army Technical Sgt. Louis Daniello, World War II
Army Staff Sgt. Herculano Dias, Vietnam
Army Staff Sgt. Michael Viola, World War II
Army Specialist Victor Barone, Vietnam
Army Pvt. First Class Dominick DePauma, World War II
Army 1st Lt. Lawrence Chesis, World War II (posthumously)
Marine Corps Cpl. Joseph Dulanie, Korean
Army Specialist William Kruse, Vietnam
Army Pvt. First Class Bennie Lotito, World War II
Navy Seaman First Class Edward Sonnico, World War II
Army Pvt. First Class Bruno Sonvico, World War II
Army Cpl. Joseph Sticco, Korean