Story Number: NNS140528-18
Release Date: 5/28/2014 8:37:00 PM
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (NNS) — Ray Zumpol Sr. considers himself lucky to be able to attend the Virginia Beach Memorial Day service each year.
President of the Vietnam Veterans of America, chapter 969, Zumpol stood tall and proud as all military, past and present, were honored on May 26 at the Tidewater Veterans Memorial, across from the Virginia Beach Convention Center.
For the medically retired chief shipfitter, not only being present at the observance, but just standing and walking without assistance is an accomplishment. During his three years in Vietnam, Zumpol took seven bullets to various parts of his body on March 21, 1968.
After serving on two destroyers just off the coast, Zumpol was assigned to River Division 513, part of River Squadron (RIVRON) 51.
“My duties were taking Marine Recon, Navy SEALS and Green Berets in and out,” explained Zumpol.
“We were just coming back from a gun run. I took a squad of SEALS in, coming back, we got a message that a squad of Marines were pinned down, my CO was dead. As command chief, I said ‘we’re going in,'” he recounted that day very matter-of-factly.
While under fire, Zumpol took bullets to the head, shoulders, back, chest and legs. After surviving a medical evacuation, painful surgeries and months of rehabilitation, Zumpol said military doctors told him he would never walk again. While it has taken him 40-plus years to get around without the aid of a walker or cane, Zumpol was always determined to prove the doctors wrong. Zumpol also jokes how “he avoids airports now days” because of the titanium implants he needed because of his injuries.
Even though the normal age-related ailments have also caught up with the 72-year-old, Zumpol wouldn’t think of missing the Memorial Day service – or the Veterans Day one either. Always seeking a chance to honor past and present veterans, Zumpol serves on the Hampton Roads Veterans Council, helping organize the Veterans Day parade for the past 10 years.
“People tell me I’m a hero but I’m not. Heroes are buried,” he said quietly.
Virginia Beach Mayor William Sessoms Jr. began his remarks by noting how each year the city joins the nation in paying tribute to those very heroes.
“Over the years, here in Virginia Beach, we’ve also gathered, to remember and pay tribute to all who’ve served,” said Sessoms. “In recent years, we’ve paid special tribute to our Navy SEALS stationed in Virginia Beach, the Sailors of the USS Cole, the airmen of the National Guard’s 203rd Red Horse flight and Medal of Honor recipients who live in Virginia Beach. All were members of this community and many, many made the ultimate sacrifice … We will always honor them … We remember that each one of those lost lives represents a father, a mother, a son, a daughter.”
The mayor also recognized the many family members in attendance.
“Today, we also salute the families and we should never forget the families who support our men and women in uniform, who guarantee and defend our freedom,” said Smith.
Guest speaker Capt. Kit Chope, commanding officer of Naval Air Station Oceana, began by thanking city officials for the opportunity to speak at the event.
“For many, this day is far removed from blow-out sales, picnics and a day off from work. It’s a day that carries a particular significance; one marked by marble headstones and wreath-layings. We pause to honor those men and women today, our loved ones and our neighbors who made the ultimate sacrifice to guarantee our freedoms,” said Chope, who commented how the true meaning of the day sometimes “becomes distant and vague.”
“It is our sacred duty to keep the legacy of our nation’s patriots forever fresh in our memory. We are bound by honor to do so,” said Chope.
“Virginia Beach and all Hampton Roads are home to one of the greatest concentrations of military personnel and installations in the world … The military community partnership that’s abundantly evident here in Virginia Beach is a model for all other military communities around the nation,” said Chope.
“As Americans pay tribute to those who have perished, we must be determined that those who served and returned to us receive proper care for their wounds and infirmities. We must insist that every veteran have an opportunity for employment, education and a home in which to live. We must vow that our veterans be treated with the dignity and respect that they so richly deserve,” said Chope.
As he prepared to conclude his remarks, Chope announced the 2014 NAS Oceana Air Show, Sept. 19 – 21, will honor the nation’s wounded warriors.
The formal ceremony included the presentation of wreaths by 33 community and veterans’ groups. As the Pearl Harbor survivors escorted their wreath to its designated location, they received a standing ovation.
The observance was concluded by the singing of “America the Beautiful” by Ashley McLeod, a benediction by Lt. Cmdr. Victoria Chappell, Oceana chaplain, and the playing of “Taps” by Master Sgt. Ryan Heseltine from the Air Force Heritage of America Band, whose other members performed throughout the ceremony.
Among the many ceremony participants was Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Andrew Patrick from the Oceana Hornet’s Nest Galley. After hearing about the observance through his command, Patrick volunteered to represent the Navy as one of the flag attendants at the veteran’s memorial.
“It’s something dear to my heart,” said Patrick. “My grandfather was a Marine, my family is patriotic and I’m trying to give back.”
In his previous command, he participated in other ceremonies, including a burial detail, but it was his first time volunteering on Memorial Day. “I wasn’t aware of how big the service is,” he said.
Zumpol has noticed the increasing attendance at the local ceremonies. “Over the years, more and more people are coming out and over the years, more and more Vietnam veterans are being honored.”
What Zumpol would like people to remember about Memorial Day is “the need to remember our fallen heroes and the ultimate price they paid so that we can continue our freedom. All veterans are honored but fallen veterans deserve more and their families, too.”
For more news from Naval Air Station Oceana, visit www.navy.mil/local/oceana/.