By DENISE GRANT
Findlay’s Armed Forces Day Celebration will honor five veterans during each of the next four years, to recognize the 50th anniversary of “Ground Vietnam,” said Roger Neff, past commander of the Findlay Military Association.
Normally, Neff said, the association honors one veteran a year. He said Vietnam veterans deserve the extra attention.
“Ground Vietnam” is the length of time the United States had “boots on the ground” in the war, Neff said.
More than 3 million men and women served in the Vietnam War, with 58,000 dead and more than 1,600 still missing.
“It’s just a small way to try and make up for all the crap they had to put up with when they came home,” Neff said. “I know so many of these guys. They are all over, and deserve the honor. How could I pick just one?”
The 2014 Veterans of the Year are: James Elsea and David Johnson, both of McComb; Thomas Brown, Joseph “Chuck” Sear Jr. and Donald Beichler, all of Findlay.
Also to be honored during the event is the 2014 Soldier of the Year, Mark Lichak of Findlay.
All of the men are decorated soldiers.
The 27th edition of the Armed Forces Day Celebration opens Friday and continues until Sunday at the Hancock County Fairgrounds.
Official opening ceremonies, which will include honoring the soldiers, are set for 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the fairgrounds. Breakfast will be served at 7:30 a.m., with a ticket price of $6.
The celebration will also feature reenactments, displays of military equipment, and memorabilia.
Gates will open at noon Friday. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children age 6 to 17, and free for those under age 6. Parking is free.
A barbecue chicken dinner will be held Friday, available until sold out, for $9.
A Huey helicopter, which Neff called “an icon of the Vietnam War,” will be at the celebration.
A nonprofit group called Volunteers of the American Huey 369, based out of Peru, Indiana, will offer rides for $100. Rides will last 12 to 15 minutes.
There will be over 150 restored military vehicles at the fairgrounds and more vendors than in years past, Neff said.
“Hancock County has produced some great military veterans over the years,” he said.
Elsea was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1969, and deployed to South Vietnam the same year. He was assigned as an infantryman to Company D, 2nd Battalion, 12th Calvary, 1st Calvary Division, where he received a Bronze Star with V Device for his heroism and actions.
Johnson enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1970 and was assigned to Bravo Company, First Recon Battalion, where he ran 34 reconnaissance patrols.
His awards and decorations include two Bronze Stars with V Device; Army Commendation with two Oak Leaves; Army Achievement with two Oak Leaves; Army Combat Action; Marine Good Conduct; Army Good Conduct with two knots; National Defense with one star; Vietnam Service with four stars; Army Service Ribbon; Marine Presidential Unit Citation; Navy Unit Citation; Army Overseas Ribbon; Vietnam Cross of Gallantry; Vietnam Civil Action Ribbon; Vietnam Campaign Ribbon and Jump Wings.
Brown enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1964 and received orders for Vietnam in 1965. He was honorably discharged with the Purple Heart Award for combat injury in September 1968. He also received the National Defense Award, Marine Good Conduct Award, as well as the Vietnam Campaign awards, along with other military honors.
Sear was commissioned a second lieutenant in U.S. Army in January 1967 through the ROTC program at the University of Akron. In March 1968, he reported to Vietnam and was assigned to the 34th General Support Group in Saigon. He was further assigned to the 241 Transportation Depot, Quy Nhon, as a transportation officer.
Beichler enlisted in the Marine Corps in September 1962. His first duty station was New River, N.C., and he completed an exercise in the Caribbean on the U.S.S. Boxer. He was transferred to a jungle area in the near east. He was serving in Vietnam at the end of the war.
Lichak, the 2014 Soldier of the Year, is a 2000 graduate of Findlay High School and received a bachelor’s degree in history from Penn State University in 2004.
His first military assignment was with the 25th Infantry Division, 14th Calvary, 2nd Squadron, at Fort Lewis, Washington, as a troop fire officer. Capt. Lichak was transferred to Washington, D.C., and is being promoted to the rank of major.
Lichak’s honors include the Army National Defense Ribbon, an Army Good Conduct Award, and other awards received for participation in Iraq and Afghanistan.