Brendan Keany

Veterans reflecting on post-service reception in society

"When I came back from Vietnam, I was called a baby killer"

November 11, 2018 - 9:39 pm

BUFFALO (WBEN) - Yesterday was Veterans Day, and people all over the country celebrated and honored what United States veterans have fought for. The Buffalo & Erie County Public Library held a program to bring awareness to the 100-year anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended World War I.

David Shenk spoke at the event, and he serves as the director of the Erie County Veterans Service Agency, which is an organization that helps veterans obtain all of the social benefits for which they qualify. He says that Buffalo tends to be a patriotic part of the country.

"I think Western New York is a very patriotic area," said Shenk. "We have over 50,000 veterans in Erie County, and I believe with all the different posts - the VFW, the AMVETS, the American Legion - I think they have a pretty good representation in Erie County."

However, veterans have not always enjoyed the appreciation they now receive.

We spoke with Walter J. Cole, who served in the United States Army from 1969-1970, at the groundbreaking of the African American Veterans Monument. Cole says the way he was treated following his tour in Vietnam in no way resembles the treatment that more recent veterans enjoy.

"When I came back from Vietnam, I was called a baby killer," said Cole. "I was spit on."

Cole even admitted that, sometimes, he stills harbors resentment for how he was treated compared to today.

He told a story that he was once shopping at K-Mart and some people outside were collecting money for returning veterans. A woman asked him for money on his way in, and he declined the request. She again asked when he came back out, and again, Cole declined. He started to walk away, realized that he was being rude, and then he went back and explained himself to the woman.

"Ma'am, I don't mean any disrespect, but when we came back from Vietnam, you didn't collect any money for us, you didn't collect any socks, you spit on us," he said.

WBEN's own David Bellavia is an Iraq War veteran, and he agrees with Cole's assessment.

"You know what, I almost feel guilty," said Bellavia when asked if he feels appreciated at a United States veteran. "The Vietnam veteran did not get this at all - what we get...the Cold War veteran, the Vietnam veteran - we are spoiled by our society to the point where if you say something negative about service or a veteran, you're pretty much socially ostracized for doing it. That was not the case when Vietnam guys came home."

Cole believes the change in attitude towards veterans didn't really fully turn until 2001.

"What led to the change? The Towers coming down," said Cole. "That happened, and they started respecting veterans."

One of the ways in which veterans are shown appreciation is through various social benefits for them and their families. Shenk wants to make sure that all veterans receive the best possible returns on their service for the country.

You can hear about some of the benefits that veterans receive below:

"It's a very complicated process, and we do it full-time, so we get good at it," said Shenk. "We're able to reduce the burden on the veteran and make it easier for the VA to process the application because we help submit a fully developed claim as opposed to a partially developed claim, which is what usually happens when a veteran tries to apply without the guidance."

If you're a veteran and would like to seek out the services of the Erie County Veterans Agency, call them at 858-6363.

Hear the full program from the Erie County Public Library below:

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