The Associated Press
For years, the Kent high school counselor rarely talked about his role in one of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War. But his courage as a platoon leader on a dangerous mission has finally been honored — in front of 1,000 cheering students and staff — with one of the military’s highest honors.
Members of his platoon sought the Silver Star for Alton Mattioli after learning two years ago, at a 30th reunion of the squadron, that he hadn’t received one.
Mattioli, 57, says their efforts and the surge of national pride since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have helped him appreciate his own history as a veteran of the 101st Airborne’s Screaming Eagles and the 1969 mission on Hamburger Hill. Fifty-six American died there and 420 were wounded.
"I think it’s helped me resolve things," Mattioli said Friday after he received the award from his former captain, Lee Sanders, at Kentwood High School.
"I guess it’s made me openly proud of my service."
He was honored for his valor in Vietnam on the third day of the mission, May 13, 1969. Friendly fire from a helicopter had hit 25 people. Though he’d been severely wounded by a rocket-propelled grenade, Mattioli reorganized his platoon, which was riddled with casualties.
Then a medical evacuation helicopter that had come for the wounded was shot down and burst into flames. Mattioli directed rescue efforts at the downed helicopter and was eventually evacuated by his men, who carried him and others to safety.
"Those guys who helped us down have always been my real heroes," Mattioli said.
He said he still has "feelings of bitterness and betrayal. The hill we went up, we left two weeks later. It pointed out the futility of the war."
Many communities in Washington planned to celebrate Veterans Day this weekend in the new spirit of patriotism.
In Auburn, the annual Veterans Day parade Saturday featured the debut of a newly restored truck that carried troops in World War I.
The 1917 REO Speedwagon was donated to Kent’s Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter in July by the widow of Tom Parrish of Federal Way, who had started the restoration project. Lloyd Hall spent many hours faithfully restoring the four-cylinder, 30-horsepower vehicle — with an all-wood cab of clear maple — to its former glory.
Other scheduled weekend events include an outdoor ceremony on the newly repaired USS Turner Joy on the Bremerton boardwalk; a service of remembrance at the Veterans Memorial Cemetery at Seattle’s Evergreen-Washelli Memorial Park; a ceremony at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena; and Old Uniform Night at VFW Post 51 in Spokane, for veterans who can still get into their uniforms.
In Yakima on Friday, Davis High School rededicated a World War II commemorative plaque that had been taken down and forgotten in the 1970s. Originally dedicated by the Yakima High School class of 1919 to alumni who served in that war, the plaque was found in storage late last summer. It will eventually be installed in the high school auditorium.
In Spokane, Vietnam War veteran Russell Van Scyoc enjoyed the Union Gospel Mission’s annual Veterans Appreciation luncheon.
"It made me feel good inside, that I did something right" in Vietnam, said Van Scyoc, putting in some time as a mission volunteer. "These people treat me like I’m a human being … (and) don’t look down on my voice," said the 54-year-old former architect whose speech and right arm were impaired by strokes in the 1990s.
His military service left him with wounds, medals and nightmares, but Van Scyoc remains a staunch patriot, pleased with the nation’s sense of purpose.
Mission chaplain Steve Slover said the shelter sees many veterans struggling with drug abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder, and tries to show them extra respect and appreciation around Veterans Day.
Across the state, students at Skyline High School in Sammamish participated in a Veterans Day assembly organized by one of only three Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps programs in the Puget Sound area.
"Last year, the assembly didn’t mean much, but this year it was awesome just to appreciate the meaning of the flag and national unity," sophomore Jayce Gutzler said Friday.
The event was organized by the 39 Sammamish students in Skyline High School’s Air Force Junior ROTC, who also are being looked at in a new light.
"Other kids used to make fun of our uniforms and the program, but they just didn’t understand it," said senior cadet David Sweeney. "Since Sept. 11, that hasn’t happened."
JROTCs, sponsored by four military branches in more than 700 schools nationwide, stress leadership, civic duty and discipline through class work and extracurricular activities such as drill and rifle teams.
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