By Kevin Penton
Asbury Park Press
May 7, 2010

HOLMDEL — Serving in Vietnam was not easy for Donald Hellowell. And returning to the United States during the turbulent year of 1969 hardly improved things, the veteran said.

To avoid harassment from those opposed to the war, Hellowell said he did not wear his uniform. To this day, Hellowell said he avoids talking with people; he feels that few understand what he has gone through.

“Except for them,” said Hellowell, looking over at several veterans. “If it wasn’t for guys like them, I wouldn’t be here.”

Hellowell, 65, of Keansburg and hundreds of other Vietnam War veterans and their loved ones gathered at the state Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Friday to remember and to honor those who served their country during the conflict. The war ended on April 30, 1975, two years after direct U.S. military actions ended.

Former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman spoke at the observance of the 15th anniversary of the opening of the memorial. Whitman said the memorial, and the adjacent Vietnam Era Educational Center, exist not only to remember those who died during the war, but those who survived.

“Bricks and mortar can’t tell a story,” Whitman said. “That’s why it’s important to continue with the educational center.”

Many of the veterans received medals from the state for their military service, which included Distinguished Service Medal, the state Meritorious Service Medal, and the state Vietnam Service Medal.

Harry Merriman, 79, of Neptune received medals not only for his time in Vietman, but also for serving in the Korean War.

“This is a true honor,” said Merriman. “Most states don’t do this.”

George Emmett of Edison found the medals to be an overdue honor for Vietnam veterans.

“Freedom is not free,” said Emmett. “Someone had to pay for it, and we did.”

John Heslin of Marlboro said he feels fortunate that he was able to adjust to life after returning home from his service in Vietnam.

“This is a very long overdue recognition, not only for me, but for a lot of guys who were not appreciated for what they sacrificed,” said Heslin.