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Veterans, Families Gather for Third Annual Vietnam War Commemoration Ceremony

by Janelle Hill M’23 Apr 2, 2024
Vietnam Commemoration Ceremony 2024 John Kukitz

It’s never too late. That was the message John Kukitz ’81, U.S. Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient, shared with his fellow Vietnam War veterans and their families. 

Kukitz was one of the featured speakers at this year’s Vietnam War Commemoration Ceremony, an annual event to recognize, honor, and thank Vietnam veterans, their families, and those who served with or in support of the armed forces. 

Kukitz graduated from Whitehall High School in 1966 and received his draft notice the following year. He arrived in Vietnam in November of 1968. Just months later, during fierce combat in support of Operation Wayne Grey, his patrol was ambushed. More than a dozen soldiers were killed and scores more wounded, including Kukitz, who was struck in the head and arm by a mortar that failed to detonate. 

“Since God gave me a second chance in 1969, I’ve tried to live my life by serving and helping others.”

 John Kukitz ’81, U.S. Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient

Kukitz has coached and served on the boards of numerous organizations. But today, he focuses his work solely on helping veterans. He’s a member of a veterans’ support group that meets twice a week and he helps others navigate the VA system. 

He also works closely with local nonprofits, including BattleBorne, which connects veterans with resources to recover from mental, emotional, and physical trauma; Veterans Brotherhood, which was founded by a Vietnam veteran and provides guidance and mentoring to veterans; and Support the Troops, which sends care packages to soldiers. 

“There are many veterans young and old who need a hand,” Kukitz said. “My message to you today is it’s never too late to join an organization to help someone. We’ve all been blessed and are grateful for the wonderful gifts God has given us. The most precious is time. I encourage you to take advantage of that most wonderful gift.”  

Bobbie Lischak Trotter at podium during Vietnam Commemoration Ceremony

Bobbie Lischak Trotter, who served as an American Red Cross Donut Dollie in Vietnam and enlisted in the Pennsylvania Air National Guard, also shared her experiences from the war. Donut Dollies were teams of female Red Cross workers deployed overseas to provide support to U.S. service members. 

Lischak Trotter served from July 1970 to July 1971. “Three hundred and sixty-five days,” she said, “but who’s counting.”

She described the experience as bringing a touch of home to the troops; Donut Dollies visited hospitals, orphanages, and any place their presence was requested.  

“It was all fun and games until the rockets came in,” she said. “War, however you experience it, is a nightmare and exacts a great price. ... You will never forget.”

Also during the ceremony:         

  • Allison Hoff ’23, M’25, a Steel Battalion Army ROTC cadet, received the prestigious Military Order of the Purple Heart Leadership Award.
  • Aniysa Thorne ’25, an Army veteran and law and society major, was announced as the spring 2024 recipient of the DeSales Veterans Scholarship.  
  • The Vietnam War Veterans of America, Lehigh Valley Chapter #415 was honored and recognized for 35 years of serving and advocating on behalf of Vietnam War veterans and their families.