December 21, 2014

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Veterans Day: Vietnam vet’s yearly remembrance

 The names of 98 of Lorain County`s own were among the more than 58,000 read this week near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The memorial, referenced as the most-visited memorial in the country, contains the names of every U.S. soldier killed during the Vietnam War and celebrates its 25th anniversary Tuesday.

For some, like Vietnam veteran Joe Horvath of Lorain, visiting the more than
490-foot-long black granite wall can be overwhelming.

Horvath, 61, a recipient of the Silver Star medal and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with a Bronze Star, kept quiet about his military service for more than 40 years and only opened up recently about his past upon the completion of the Lorain County Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

“When we came back from the war, we weren`t treated right,” Horvath said. “I`ve had people ask me if I served, and I`d tell them ‘no.` Telling people would only result in an argument or a fight.”

Horvath enlisted in 1968 with his best friend, Edgar La Torre, after both graduated from Admiral King High School in Lorain.

They entered basic training together but were split up in combat. They stayed connected through letters, but four months after entering combat, Horvath knew something was wrong.

La Torre had been killed, but everyone was afraid to tell Horvath.

“I stopped getting letters from him,” Horvath said. “Everybody at home knew, but they didn`t want to worry me. My brother wrote me because he thought I should know.”

Horvath returned to Lorain following the war and made a promise to La Torre`s mother to take care of her son`s grave.

So every Veterans Day, he makes a trip to Calvary Cemetery in Lorain to clean his friend`s headstone and to honor him by placing combat boots, an inverted rifle and a helmet next to the grave.

The gesture was always something Horvath has done in secret, but the unveiling of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Amherst gave him the pride to tell his story.

“It changed everything for me,” Horvath said. “I was going to take all this stuff to the grave with me, but the memorial has really opened the eyes of a lot of people. I`m glad to see it.”

Don Attie, a member of the Lorain County Vietnam Veterans Committee, estimates that hundreds of people have stopped by the county memorial.

“There seems to be somebody there every day,” Attie said. “I`ve received cards and e-mails from people from all over the country who have stopped in Amherst to pay their respects.”

Horvath said the memorial couldn`t have come at a better time for him and his fallen comrades.

“It`s an honor to have something like that close by,” he said. “I knew a lot of those guys. It was the right thing to do.”

Contact Stephen Szucs at 336-4016 or sszucs@chroniclet.com.