WOONSOCKET - It was the longest war in American history and the most unpopular American war of the 20th century. It resulted in nearly 60,000 American deaths and an estimated two million Vietnamese deaths.
Forty-seven years after enlisting for Vietnam, Richard W. Schatz says he holds no regrets for his decision, especially at a time when so many of his friends were actively protesting the war.
"I enlisted to serve my country just as my father and my uncles did in World War II," says Schatz, president of the Cumberland Veterans Council and the 2011 grand marshal of the United Veterans Council of Woonsocket's annual Memorial Day Parade held Monday.
The honorary grand marshals were the Woonsocket Elks Lodge 850 and its Ladies Emblem Club No. 27.
"Some of my friends were against the war and when they heard I enlisted I lost those friends," says Schatz, who was also named Veteran of the Year this year by the United Veterans Council. "I felt it was the right thing to do and the only regret I have is that I didn't have friends who could understand and accept my decision."
Hundreds of people lined Clinton Street and South Main Street for Monday's parade, which stepped off at the corner of Cumberland and Clinton streets and ended at River Island Park. People waved flags and saluted as the parade rolled by. The line of march included Mayor Leo T. Fontaine, City Councilmen John Ward, William Schneck, Daniel M. Gendron and Christopher A. Beauchamp, city Veterans Advisor Melvin Defoe, and United Veterans Council President Ernest R. Frappier.
The parade also included a Woonsocket Police Department motorcade and color guard; Woonsocket United Veterans Council color guard and officers; and the Woonsocket High School and Middle School bands.
Also participating were color guards from the Cournoyer-Ducharme-Gosselin-Lambert VFW Post 11519; Belhumeur-Duhamel American Legion Post 62; American Legion Fairmount Post No. 85; Amvets Harnois-Barnabe-Arel Post 7; Woonsocket Post No. 15; Franco-American War Veterans; Disabled American Veterans Chapter 12; and the St. Joseph Veterans Association.