Video by Allyson Morin
Article by Matt Benedetti
Florence, Mass–After visiting with the Commander of VFW Post 8006 in Florence, Mass., for a few minutes, it is easy to see why people naturally follow Tom Pease. Affable, relaxed and personable, Pease understands the unique challenges faced by service members and has worked to create a community-based environment that is welcoming for veterans of all generations.
An Army veteran of the Vietnam War, Pease is preparing Post 8006 for the 150th Memorial Day Parade to be held on May 28, 2018. First held after the Civil War in 1868, it is the longest continuously celebrated parade held on Memorial Day.
"We’ve never, ever missed a parade on Memorial Day,” said Pease.
Florence, Mass. Memorial Day Parade, 1911
Traditionally, Memorial Day allows Americans an opportunity to reflect on the collective and individual sacrifices of service members.
For Pease, who served as an infantryman in Vietnam from August 1967 thru August 1968, his tour was long ago but on Memorial Day doesn’t seem so far away.
"I lost a really good friend, it tore the whole platoon up,” he remembered.
In the Summer of 1967, the collective attention of New England was drawn to the emergence of the Boston Red Sox in the American League pennant race. Cellar dwellers in 1966, the Sox led by eventual Triple Crown Winner and MVP Carl Yastrzemski, captured the interest of young and old alike in a historic season that would be known as the "Impossible Dream.”
The voice Red Sox announcer Curt Gowdy and the "Carl Yastrzemski Song” by Jess Cain could be heard on most front porches and car radios throughout the summer.
Pease, however, was less concerned with events at Fenway than he was in places like An Khe, a restive city located in the Central Highlands in the Republic of South Vietnam. News from Southeast Asia was garnering larger headlines each week and Pease had received his orders for service in Vietnam.
Drafted the previous year, the 18-year-old Smith Vocational Graduate had returned to Florence from basic training and advanced individual training at Ft. Jackson, S.C.
"I was on the drill team in high school and knew the draft was coming. In hindsight, I wish that I had enlisted,” he said.
Pease scored high on aptitude assessment tests and qualified for training as a helicopter pilot. After some reflection, he declined.
"I decided that I wanted to go infantry, felt better about having my feet on the ground,” he said.
As he drank cold beer and water skied with his buddies on the river on a humid night in July, he was keenly aware that his life would be irrevocably altered in the near future.
After saying goodbye to family and friends in late August of 67, Pease departed from Bradley Airport in Ct. with stops at Ft. Ord, Ca, Midway Island and the Philippines before finally arriving at Cam Ranh Bay in the Republic of Vietnam.
SPC 5 Pease found himself assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry at An Khe, the infamous General George Custer’s old unit at Little Big Horn.
He thought to himself, "What have I gotten myself into?”
His platoon leader gave him the choice of three jobs: assistant gunner, radioman or walking point. Pease selected the responsibility of walking point despite the obvious threat level.
"I always had a good sense of direction and awareness and felt confident that I could lead a squad of men,” he recalled.
For six months he walked points on patrols in places like the Bong Son, Phan Thiet and countless villages along Highway 9.
After suffering a shrapnel wound that had become infected, Pease was assigned to accompany the unit sergeant major as an information specialist. This duty took him throughout the theater to places like Camp Evans, LZ Betty and on a recovery mission after the 77-day siege of the Marine fire-base at Khe Sanh.
"Those Marines didn’t want to talk to any of us,” he said.
After spending time in the Au Shau Valley, Pease rotated back to the States in August of 1968 for a five-month assignment at Ft. Carson, Co.
The stark contrast between the two environments was jarring to the soldier accustomed to oppressive heat, leeches and mud.
"Funny, how the Army works,” said Pease. "Here I was in the jungle on 1 Aug and by 1 Sep I was on maneuvers in the snow,” he said.
"I got sick as a dog,” he recalled with a laugh.
The two-year enlistment had concluded, and Pease turned to civilian interests.
"I grew my hair long and all I wanted was a cold beer and to go to work,” he said.
It never occurred to him to join the VFW at the time.
"I felt that I had done enough,” he said.
It was after 9/11 that Pease decided that he had a change of heart.
"It woke me up and I became more involved,” he said.
Today, Commander Pease oversees 135 members and is up for election for his 5th term. He understands that OIF/OEF veterans may not be immediately drawn to a fraternal organization like the VFW so soon after service but urges them to consider joining.
"We embrace these veterans and welcome them to consider joining. The VFW is not just a place to drink beer, we are active in the community and open to the whole community,” said Pease. "Hopefully these veterans and members of the community will come to the post and help us celebrate Memorial Day,” he said.
Massachusetts VFW State Commander Eric Segundo is proud of the efforts of Tom Pease at VFW Post 8006.
"Tom is an example of the dedicated members we have serving the VFW, ” said Segundo. "His commitment to our organization, veterans and community is one we should all follow. The department is proud to have members like Tom,” he added.
Much has changed since the Summer of ’67 although some things remain constant. The Red Sox have a strong team and look to be pennant contenders and service-members are still returning from an enduring conflict in Asia. Whether it is 1968 or 2018, the VFW will always be here to support veterans.
Florence, Mass. Memorial Day Parade, 1940
"No one does more for veterans,” promised Tom Pease.
The village of Florence, Mass. will hold their 150th Memorial Day Parade on Monday, May 28 at 1:00 p.m. following a ceremony and jet flyover. The VFW will lead the procession as they’ve always done and will continue to do.
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