Vietnam veterans to continue tradition of presenting flag at pro football games They're ready for first trip to Ravens stadium

August 04, 1998|By Ron Snyder | Ron Snyder,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

When Robert Coughlin returned from his tour of duty in the Vietnam War, he recalls being spat upon and ridiculed.

Thirty years later, Coughlin and the other 46 members of Dundalk's Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 451 expect a far different reception when they present the American flag Saturday before the first preseason game at Baltimore's new Ravens stadium.

"There is a lot more positive reaction today than there was when I first came home," said Coughlin, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who is in charge of the Dundalk-based unit's rifle squad.

The honor guard has presented the flag before every Ravens home game since the team moved to Baltimore, continuing a tradition that dates to the team's years in Cleveland.

"Using a Vietnam Veteran honor guard is our way of saying 'Thank you' to a group of soldiers who, in my opinion, until recently never got the recognition or respect they deserved," said David Modell, Ravens vice president.

In addition to the American and Maryland flags, members of the honor guard also present the chapter's flag, as well as the POW-MIA flag, which serves as a reminder of those soldiers missing from the war.

"The Ravens have been really good to us," said Pat Feehley, commander of the honor guard, who was a bodyguard to the U.S. ambassador in Vietnam. "Being able to display the POW-MIA flag is real important to us, because we don't want people to forget those who are unaccounted for."

Vietnam Veterans of America was founded in 1978. There are more than 60,000 members in more than 700 chapters nationwide. The Dundalk chapter was founded in 1989 and quickly became one of the nation's largest, with more than 900 members.

"A friend of mine introduced me to the chapter while I was experiencing some problems and got me involved," Coughlin said. "Since then, the chapter has been a real positive experience."

Chapter 451 formed its honor guard in 1990 and began with seven members. The honor guard started out doing parades in the Dundalk area and before long was asked to appear at more than 60 events a year, from county fairs to funerals.

"We've grown to the point where we have had to turn requests down," Feehley said.

Robert Usher, a U.S. Army veteran, has been a member of the honor guard for three years. He grew up watching the Colts and was a big fan of Johnny Unitas. Last week, he and other members of the honor guard toured the new stadium in preparation for the season.

While Usher will always have a loyalty to the Colts, the Ravens are quickly earning a place in his heart.

"All the years at Memorial Stadium were great, and I'm glad I was a part of it, but this stadium is unbelievable," Usher said.

Along with having the honor of presenting the flag at Ravens home games, the honor guard has won many awards within the community. But for Bruce Ying-ling, a U.S. Air Force veteran, the awards are not as important as the response the honor guard receives from the people who watch.

"Walking in a parade can be grueling at times, especially when it becomes hot and you are in a heavy uniform," Yingling said. "But it's worth it when people cheer us and come up to us and thank us. It makes up for a lot of the negative responses we had when we came home."

Pub Date: 8/04/98

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