Vietnam veterans from W.Pa., region to gather to celebrate Tet Offensive victory

If you go Vietnam Veterans of Westmoreland County hosts its annual Tet Party from 5 to 11 p.m. Saturday at Youngwood Fire Hall, 104 S. Second St. Tickets are available at the door: $20 for singles, $35 for couples. Food, refreshments, music and door prizes....

Vietnam veterans from W.Pa., region to gather to celebrate Tet Offensive victory

If you go

Vietnam Veterans of Westmoreland County hosts its annual Tet Party from 5 to 11 p.m. Saturday at Youngwood Fire Hall, 104 S. Second St. Tickets are available at the door: $20 for singles, $35 for couples. Food, refreshments, music and door prizes. Information: 724-872-6742 or 412-554-2089.

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Updated 3 hours ago

Few young Americans who served during the Tet Offensive ever paused to imagine themselves as old soldiers.

It was early 1968 in Vietnam.

Old soldiers were back home, serving in the honor guard at Memorial Day parades, raising the flag at the Legion Hall or swapping stories over cigarettes and drinks at the VFW.

The guys in the Vietnam War were young, most barely out of their teens, called to serve Uncle Sam. The monthlong offensive by North Vietnam that coincided with the Tet — Vietnam's lunar New Year — was a baptism by fire that few can forget.

Nearly half a century later, they will gather Saturday as the Vietnam Veterans of Westmoreland County to mark their 33rd annual Tet Party at Youngwood Fire Hall. The event, which attracts scores of Vietnam veterans, originated as a celebration of America's little noted victory against the offensive.

Most are local men and women, but some come from West Virginia, Maryland, Ohio and New Jersey, said Dan Sager, president of the Vietnam Veterans of Westmoreland County.

They will recite the Pledge of Allegiance and hit the buffet. Some will dance, others will just listen as the DJ plays music from the soundtrack of their youth. And everyone will lift a toast in honor of “the guys who didn't come back,” said Sager, 71, of Ruffsdale, who served as a Navy SEAL during the Tet Offensive.

“It's all about the camaraderie. People eat, dance and let their hair down,” he said. “We're here for the brotherhood. When you come into that club, you are equal. It's not Army against Marines or Navy. We have a good time for two or three hours.”

Like Sager, Jack Otto, 73, of Greensburg is a fixture at the parties. Many vets eventually make their way to Otto's table to peruse the squadron drawings he has created to memorialize those who served in Vietnam.

A retired interior designer who worked on medical facilities across the country, including Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, Otto has taken his artist's skill and eye for detail to create pen-and-ink drawings that memorialize the units that served in the war.

He colorizes and laminates one drawing for each unit and makes black and white copies to give to veterans.

Everything is authentic, down to the tanks, helicopters, gunships and various unit patches of those who manned the machines, Otto explained, his blue eyes twinkling.

“Some of the stuff he's done is just spectacular,” Sager said. He said Otto started out by creating one rendering for each of the units members of the Westmoreland group served with.

A Manor native, Otto said he was drafted three times before he finally cleared the physical to become a member of the Army's military police in Vietnam.

“When it finally happened to me, I decided I had to take it in and know all about it,” Otto said of his military experience.

That drive to take in every detail fueled his recent work as he meticulously researched the units that served in Vietnam, eventually creating 270 different unit renderings.

“He is an observer of life who notices every nuance,” Otto's wife, Dorothy, said.

His drawings, the fruit of two and half years of work, are sorted, boxed and indexed for transport to the Tet Party. Vets who stop by with inquiries often are amazed at the authenticity of Otto's work.

“He'll go to a box, pull one out, hand it to them and they cry,” Dorothy Otto said.

The demand for his work may be greater than usual Saturday. Given the warm weather, the party will likely draw upward of 200 people, Sager said.

No doubt, dozens will buy the commemorative T-shirts Otto designed featuring a bright fire rooster and the year 2017: It is the year of Fire Rooster in Asian tradition and a time for remembrance at home.

Debra Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com.

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