CANTON Army veteran John Herrera and his wife, Dee, were talking at a table in the Canton Civic Center on Nov. 2 after visiting more than 90 vendors offering services for military veterans. They were attending the first Stark County Veteran Stand Down assistance and resource fair hosted by the SAM Center in Massillon.
Herrera served during the Vietnam War era from 1961-64. There was a special pinning ceremony held at noon at the Civic Center to recognize and honor more 150 Vietnam veterans.
"We came today to see the Vietnam veterans get recognized, when I got out of the service in 1964 I couldn’t even wear my uniform," Herrera said. "My wife and I wanted to meet the dignitaries who did the recognition ceremony. I got to meet Canton Mayor Thomas Bernabei. While I never served in combat, I’m proud to have been part of a unit that contributed to that war effort," he said.
The SAM (Serving Area Military) Center, 413 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, operates a free commissary for veterans in need. It also provide veterans transitioning from homeless to housing with lodging kits that contain everything (but furniture) needed to make their new place a home.
Brian Bowman from the SAM Center said the organization is a group of veterans and military supporters helping each other.
"The SAM Center decided to hold an event where we could bring all types of veteran’s services together and today we have 90 vendors here today offering support services for veterans, active military and their families," Bowman said.
The event went from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and by 1:30 more than 650 veterans visited. In addition to free information and give aways and the pinning ceremony, visitors received a free lunch provided by Mission BBQ, which is located in the Belden Village area.
"There are all types of organizations here from equestrian and dog therapy to the Small Business Association (SBA) who provides business loans to veterans," Bowman said.
Bernabei, Judge Curt Werren and Director/CEO of VA Medical Center Sue Fuehrer hosted the Vietnam Veteran recognition ceremony.
Vietnam Veteran James Scall, of Canton, was one of those receiving a lapel pin at the ceremony.
"The recognition is about 50 years too late, we should have been honored the day we walked off the planes years ago," Scall said. "Americans have changed their view and attitude about veterans for the better these days. All the men and women here today are the nation’s heroes."
There were several tables setup where veterans could fill out an application to receive a high school diploma from the school district where they attended. The service is offered to those men and women who had to leave school before graduating to enlist voluntarily or because of the draft.
They could also apply for military awards, Cold War certificates and request their military and VA records.
There were organizations for veteran and support, jobs and career, transportation, retiree information, pre-need arrangements, financial assistance, morale, welfare and recreation, veteran’s affairs and the VA Medical Center.
"This has been a tremendous turnout today. We’ve had over 100 people sign up for VA benefits and health care. We’re grateful for all of the vendors who came out today and for those veterans who came," Bowman said.