'You earned them'

Vietnam vets receive Buck Knives during special ceremony

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Graham Crutchfield, center in red shirt, presented Buck Knives Vietnam veterans or family members during a special ceremony Saturday at the American Legion in Post Falls. Front row from left: Dave Blanton, Crutchfield, Jim Hunt and Ray Rooper. Second row from left: Gabe Komanec, Jim Coleman, John Doherty, Paul Sherman and Dale Inman. Back row from left: John Ivy, Eric Stroh, Bob Barnett and Ross Jackman.

POST FALLS - When John Ivy returned to America in 1971 after a five-year tour with the Army in Vietnam, he had feces thrown at him.

He and fellow soldiers were cussed at. Some of the words yelled in his direction were so vulgar, that when asked what was said, he refused to repeat them.

"It was not a pleasant situation," the Sandpoint man said.

The 65-year-old much preferred the welcome he received Saturday during a program to honor Vietnam Purple Heart recipients at the American Legion in Post Falls.

He and 11 others were presented with Buck Knives during a gathering of the Vietnam Veterans of America.

"It's really a terrific thing. We put a lot on the line and it's kind of nice to have somebody say thank you," Ivy said. "Because when I got back from 'Nam, nobody said thank you."

Time to rectify that, said Graham Crutchfield of Hayden, veteran and organizer of the knife program.

"I'm sorry it took so long," he said.

Crutchfield has led fundraising drives to purchase calling cards for active military overseas and for a DAV van. He's organized meetings to clear up confusion over military medical benefits. The presentation of Buck Knives to vets is close to his heart.

The knives, each engraved with the recipient's military branch, are purchased from Buck Knives and made at the Buck factory in Post Falls.

They can't be bought for any price, Crutchfield said. They can't be sold.

"Nobody get a knife who didn't earn it," he said.

The Vietnam vets who came together Saturday definitely did, Crutchfield added.

"There's no amount of money that can thank you," he said during a 45-minute program.

The knives, each in a commemorative sheath, are presented to those in the National Guard, the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and posthumously to family members. They are passed down from father to son.

"That's what these mean," Crutchfield said.

John Doherty appreciated the gift and commendations on Saturday. The Eastport man served six years with the Marine Corps, include two in Vietnam.

"Nobody welcomed us home when we came. At this stage in my life, this is a very nice remembrance and thank you," the 63-year-old said.

Doherty said when he returned from his first one-year tour in September 1968, "it was terrible."

"I was actually accosted in the San Francisco international airport wearing a Marine Corps uniform," he said.

His military service in Vietnam hurt when he applied for jobs.

"You kind of hid you were a veteran, especially a Marine veteran in Vietnam," he said. "They thought we were drug-crazed fools, I guess."

But Doherty refused to be bitter and today, appreciates the way America recognizes those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I'm very proud of these young men and women. They've got a marvelous job, and America has done a wonderful job recognizing them."

Dave Blanton of Priest River, who served with the Marines from August 1967 to July 1969 in Vietnam, was thankful for the knife and praise.

"It's a total thrill. This is something you don't expect. Some people look at it as a little thing but this is a very, very big thing, that somebody remembers us," he said.

When Blanton returned to the U.S., he was greeted by hostile war protesters.

"The biggest insult to me was, they came on the airplane and told us to change out of our uniforms before we left the base," he said. "What have we been fighting for? People didn't agree with the war, but it still was our job. We were just doing what we were supposed to."

As he held the knife in his hands Saturday, Blanton smiled.

"Something like this now, it's awesome," he said.

He plans to pass the knife on to his son, Michael, who is serving with the Army.

"He'll treasure it as much as I do."

Russ Fankell, VVA spokesman, said the Vietnam veterans deserve respect for serving their country. They didn't get it when they should have, he added, but today, they will.

"Some of these guys have never been thanked," he said. "It's about time."

Crutchfield said he is occasionally asked if one of the knives can be purchased. He laughed as he recounted his usual response.

"The price is a tour in Iraq or Afghanistan," he says. "Call me when you get back."

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