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DeSales Honors, Thanks Vietnam Veterans During Second Commemoration Ceremony

by Janelle Hill M'23 Mar 31, 2023
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The first time Commander James S. Turner Jr. returned home from serving in Vietnam, he and his fellow service members were greeted by crowds waving American flags and tossing flowers. 

During his second homecoming, just a few years later, the mood of the nation had shifted. This time, the crowds threw rocks.

“That was not fun, but we survived,” the retired Navy veteran said. 

Turner shared stories from his time in the service during a special Vietnam War Commemoration Ceremony in the DeSales University Center. It’s the second straight year the University has hosted the event to recognize, honor, and thank local Vietnam War veterans. 

A northeast Pennsylvania native, Turner enlisted in the Navy after graduating from high school in 1958. His assignments took him to 40 countries on six continents, including serving five years off the coasts of North and South Vietnam during the most intensive bombing campaigns. 

Turner recounted his time spent on aircraft carriers during the war, the barrage of bombings that were carried out on a daily basis, and the time John McCain stayed on his ship in September of 1967. Just weeks later, the future senator from Arizona was shot down and captured.

Turner grew emotional as he praised the town of Phillipsburg, New Jersey, for its efforts to honor and remember 15 high school graduates who were killed in action during the war. He also thanked DeSales for hosting the event and for its commitment to veterans. 

“It’s nice to see someone who loves the service and truly this is DeSales. ... You people here today are making us feel like you cared.” 

 Commander James S. Turner Jr., U.S. Navy (retired) 

After Turner’s remarks, John Kukitz ’81, a Vietnam War veteran and Purple Heart recipient, and Tom Craig, Ph.D., assistant professor and a veteran of the Marine Corps Reserve, recognized all of the veterans in attendance by name as they received a special lapel pin honoring their service. 

“You served and sacrificed but received no cheer, no thanks, no praise. Fifty years is a long time to wait,” Craig told them.  

Two DeSales students who are members of the Steel Battalion Army ROTC were also singled out for their service. Aminata Dem ’25, a psychology major, received the Military Order of the Purple Heart Leadership Award. Valery Malabett ’25, a criminal justice major, received the Steel Battalion Army ROTC Scholarship and Award.   

A number of local veterans organizations participated in the ceremony, which was hosted by DeSales’ Office of Veterans and Military Services. The office is proud to be recognized as an official Commemorative Partner of the Department of Defense, Vietnam War Commemoration.