Vietnam vets: 'You were there or you weren't'

Veterans say they don't understand how state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal could have unintentionally said he served "in Vietnam" when he meant to say "during Vietnam," since that is a distinction they take seriously.

"There's a clear line - you were there or you weren't," said Michael Stergio of Salem, who spent 13 months in Vietnam with the Marine Corps.

The New York Times reported Monday that Blumenthal has distorted his military service. Blumenthal served in the Marine Reserves during the Vietnam War but did not serve overseas.

Blumenthal appeared with veterans Tuesday in West Hartford to explain that he "misspoke" about his service during the war.

Stergio called the misrepresentation "disgraceful" and said the attorney general's explanation does not change his opinion.

Frederick W. Palm Jr. served in the Army during the Vietnam era, in Panama. A published report about his candidacy for probate judge in April stated that he served in the Army during the Vietnam War instead of during the Vietnam War era.

"I was panicked, just panicked. It's a distinction most of us take quite seriously and are sensitive to," Palm, of Groton, said Tuesday. "Amongst us veterans, people who served in war have a certain status, and people who made themselves available have a status, and then you have people who didn't."

Palm carries the newspaper correction in his wallet in case anyone asks, to prove that he corrected the record. He said he was flabbergasted and disheartened when he heard the news about Blumenthal.

"I don't know why he felt he had to embellish his record," he said. "It does tarnish his image in my mind a little bit. I'd be lying if I didn't say that, but I honestly can't say I won't vote for him, either."

Stergio has no intention of supporting Blumenthal.

"I always looked up to and respected Blumenthal, but this I can't excuse," Stergio said. "It's the most despicable thing anyone can do. Now he's just another candidate out there that I wouldn't vote for."

Stergio, along with the majority of his 150-man company, was wounded in an ambush in January 1968. He was treated in Vietnam for shrapnel in his leg, then resumed combat duty until August 1968.

Some Vietnam-era veterans portray themselves as having been in Vietnam, but "if they didn't see the bloodshed, or the horror, and the death, and the smell of napalm, then they really can't say that they were there," said Morris Bodine of Canterbury, commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart chapter for eastern Connecticut.

Bodine, who served with an Army engineer battalion in Vietnam from 1968 to 1970, was also hit with shrapnel in an ambush. As a result, his left ankle and the lower part of his left leg had to be reconstructed.

As the chapter commander, Bodine has interacted with Blumenthal on numerous occasions.

"He is a very intelligent man and I don't understand why he would make a claim like this," Bodine said. "He knows how veterans feel about that."

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