2017-03-09 / Front Page

Fifty years later, veterans recognized

By Garrick Hoffman
Staff Writer


Ray Hallczuk displays a “challenge coin” that he bought and has been carrying for about seven years. The coin lists the branches of U.S. military, and Hallczuk uses it with other veterans when out for food or drinks. Although he said most veterans carry one, whoever doesn’t have one at the challenge moment is forced to buy the food or drinks. (Garrick Hoffman photo) Ray Hallczuk displays a “challenge coin” that he bought and has been carrying for about seven years. The coin lists the branches of U.S. military, and Hallczuk uses it with other veterans when out for food or drinks. Although he said most veterans carry one, whoever doesn’t have one at the challenge moment is forced to buy the food or drinks. (Garrick Hoffman photo) BIDDEFORD – When Ray Hallczuk was 18 years old, Lyndon Johnson was in his first year of presidency and Hallczuk’s service in the Vietnam War was another year away.

It was June 12, 1964. Hallczuk had already served in the Army National Guard in Saco for 10 months and he was finally graduating from Biddeford High School. Upon graduating he decided that he would go active duty, and three days later he found himself in San Antonio, Texas, where he began basic training at the Lackland Military Training Center for the Air Force.


Ray Hallczuk’s challenge coin shown in more detail. The back of the coin displays the Statue of Liberty next to a scroll that reads, “Defenders of our Freedom.” Below the statue is a message that says, “Thank you for your service.” (Garrick Hoffman photo) Ray Hallczuk’s challenge coin shown in more detail. The back of the coin displays the Statue of Liberty next to a scroll that reads, “Defenders of our Freedom.” Below the statue is a message that says, “Thank you for your service.” (Garrick Hoffman photo) This was the first day of his 23 years of service for the military, and the Vietnam War was right around the corner. He had a strong feeling he was going.

“I was going to be drafted. I was going anyhow. My number was going to be called,” he said.

Because of this powerful hunch, Hallczuk decided to volunteer for the war.

“A lot of people volunteered. You’d be surprised,” he said.

The Vietnam Veterans 50th Anniversary Honor Ceremony will be held at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 15 at the American Legion Hall Post 26, 508 Elm St., Biddeford.

In 1966, Hallczuk landed in Da Nang as a quartermaster in the Air Force, meaning he was a supply soldier responsible for providing items such as rations and clothing. In his 2003 book “Eye of the Tiger: Memoir of a United States Marine, Third Force Recon Company, Vietnam”, John Edmund Delezen said he and fellow soldiers were told Da Nang was at that time the busiest airport in the world.

“The noise is a constant, unrelenting attack upon our hearing as fighter bombers take off and land,” Delezen wrote in describing the sensory elements at the air base.

Hallczuk ended up doing one tour in Vietnam for about a year and was never physically wounded. He said he knows veterans who have done three or four tours in Iraq or Afghanistan, and another veteran who did the same amount in Vietnam.

“One is enough,” he said.

Hallczuk said he believes America’s involvement in the Vietnam War was a mistake.

“I think if you ask most of us Vietnam veterans – yes, it was a mistake to go to Vietnam,” he said. “We (soldiers) went because we had to. One person might say it’s good that we went there, and then you got me.”

Beyond simple descriptions such as years served and his role in the war, Hallczuk wished not to speak further about his time in the war.

“There’s not that much I’d really like to talk about, like most Vietnam vets,” he said. “It’s part of their life. They live with it. You have your nightmares.”

Hallczuk is considered a 100 percent disabled veteran, meaning he receives full medical assistance from the government. This took tremendous effort to attain, Hallczuk said.

“I had to fight tooth and nail all the way,” he said. “Anybody that is a 100 percent disabled vet . . . has to fight every step of the way. I’ve been 100 percent for 10 or 11 years. But I started off as 10 percent, then went to 30, 50, 70 . . . (It) refers to health, that’s basically what it is because I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. The government will not offer it to you” if you don’t make efforts to receive it, he said.

Hallczuk has a flag on the license plate of his truck, which indicates 100 percent disabled veteran status, and regularly sees a psychiatrist and psychologist for post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.

Hallczuk is the son of a veteran, Stephen Hallczuk, an Arundel resident who served in World War II. Stephen Hallczuk served as a Darby ranger, a Special Forces position similar to that of the Green Berets, Ray Hallczuk said. During the war he was captured by German soldiers and became a prisoner of war for 15 months in Anzio, Italy. He survived and ultimately served in the military for 27 years.

“He never, never talked about it,” Ray Hallczuk said. “I knew my father was a prisoner of war, I knew he was in the war, I knew he was captured in Anzio in Italy, but I didn’t know for how long.”

After his father died in 1996, Ray Hallczuk discovered more about his father’s military history after reading articles and discovering items his father owned. Even his mother didn’t know many facts about her husband’s military past, Ray Hallczuk said. He believes his father volunteered for the military.

“Knowing my dad, he volunteered,” Hallczuk said. “He loved the military. He was probably around 17 or 18 when he joined.”

Hallczuk, in another move that followed his father’s footsteps, ended up becoming a foreman at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in New Hampshire after he finished military service.

“We were both foremen at the same shop – nuclear pipe fitter foremen,” he said. “My father retired and I was there working in the same shop, but he was not my boss. After he retired I put in (an application) to be a foreman. I took a test and became a foreman. I don’t regret it.”

Hallczuk, 71 and an Arundel resident, has a 38-year-old daughter, Stacy Lisa Hallczuk, who has two daughters of her own, Kayleigh Rhianne, 11, and Sophie Isabella, 7. He also adopted a daughter through his ex-wife, who is now 49 and has six grandchildren, all boys.

The American Legion is a national organization for veterans that was founded in 1919, and Post 26 - located at 508 Elm St. in Biddeford - was founded a year later in 1920, Hallczuk said. In three years, the post will turn a century old, and Hallczuk said he is always trying to raise money for the post “to keep it on its feet.”

The post is also involved with the Vietnam Veterans of America, another national organization for veterans that meets at Post 26. Like the American Legion, it has local chapters, with its local chapter 1044 in Sanford.

Hallczuk said he wished more people had respect for the Legion.

“One of the things that really, really irritates the hell out of me is when people say, ‘Oh, you belong to one of those clubs?’ . . . We’re not a club, we’re an organization. We’re a veterans’ organization.”

The use of the term club, he said, trivializes its cause.

Post 26 has no bar, making it a dry post. It hosts dinners and rents its hall out for events. It has 85 members, and Hallczuk is trying to recruit new ones.

“I’m always trying to get new members,” he said. “I’ve got one member now that’s from Afghanistan and one from Iraq. I’m trying to recruit as many younger people . . . World War II vets are far and few between. The next one is Korea, and (the veterans from that war are) slowly disappearing.”

Despite difficulty in recruiting new members, Hallczuk said he isn’t going anywhere, even at 71.

“I’m good for another 20 years,” he said with a laugh.

Hallczuk said he lost a few members last year, including Saco resident Jake Mulligan.

Mulligan was a Vietnam veteran and former commander of Post 26 who died in October 2016. He replaced Hallczuk as commander before being replaced by Carl Pendleton, a veteran who served in Afghanistan. Hallczuk decided to take the position again after Pendleton abdicated.

“Jake was a super nice guy,” Hallczuk said.

He said they were best friends, but neither of them talked about the war together.

The March 15 event coincides with the 97th birthday of Post 26, as it was established on that day in 1920, around the time World War I ended. A piece of legion history will be read to celebrate, and veterans will be invited to participate in a ceremony.

Joe Armstrong, post commander for Vietnam Veterans of America, contacted Adria Horn, director of Maine Bureau of Veterans Services, to help organize the event with Rep. Martin Grohman (D-Biddeford) of District 12. Horn will conduct the ceremony. She will present a commemorative coin, lapel pin and certificate to veterans who are present. The certificate is one of appreciation for service and sacrifice to America, Horn said.

Horn said the event is part of a 50th anniversary commemorative recognition period, which will last until 2023. The purpose for events such as the upcoming one is to recognize individuals involved in the war and to give them a welcome home that they never received.

“This is really challenging for a lot of people – very, very challenging,” Horn said. I’ve invited separate people individually for it who said, ‘I can’t go. I can’t do it.’ So 50 years later it’s as raw as if it happened yesterday.

“What I say on that is if you are unwilling, unable or not yet ready to come to events like this, we (at the Maine Bureau of Veterans Services) are completely committed to recognizing your service in a way that best fits you,” she said. “So if coming to a public event doesn’t feel good and you want an individual one, we can do that.”

Though Grohman helped organize the event, he doesn’t take credit for it.

“The whole thing was Jake’s idea,” Grohman said. “He encouraged me to move in on this 50th anniversary tribute.”

Grohman, who is not a veteran, has been involved with Post 26 for an indeterminable amount of time, he said.

“I’ve been going to the meetings for a long time,” he said. “I just wanted to help out. It’s really thanks to Ray (that I got involved). Often the post invites legislators to different events or presentations. I was seeing ways I could help out. We’re raising money for a new heating system.”

A trailer sits outside of the post’s building, by the sign on the edge of the road, to collect redeemable bottles to go toward funds for the post. The trailer is Grohman’s.

“It’s a good little post. The guys are great guys. They’re such good guys I just want to help out any way that I can,” he said.

However, Post 26 members also like to tease him with a healthy dose of humor.

“They make fun of me,” he said. “They say I’m the head of the ladies’ auxiliary.”

The Vietnam Veterans 50th Anniversary Honor Ceremony will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 15 at the American Legion Hall Post 26, 508 Elm St., Biddeford.

FMI

The Vietnam Veterans 50th Anniversary Honor Ceremony will be held at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 15 at the American Legion Hall Post 26, 508 Elm St., Biddeford.

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