Fort Drum honors Vietnam veterans, couple reflects on war

Published: Mar. 29, 2023 at 5:58 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

FORT DRUM, New York (WWNY) - It’s National Vietnam War Veterans Day and those veterans shopping at Fort Drum’s Army and Air Force Exchange Service, known as the Exchange, were honored with a pin for their service.

Fort Drum Garrison Command Sergeant Major Shelly Jenkins says these veterans deserve to be recognized.

One thing he admires about them is their pride.

“I tried to compare them to our time. There’s no comparison. These veterans, they went through a lot. They didn’t get the recognition that we do nowadays, so it’s always great to give back to the veterans,” he said.

At the event, we met a Canton couple who first met as patient and nurse during the Vietnam years and later became husband and wife.

“We would give them tetanus shots. We would cut off the uniforms, turn them, look for any multiple fragment wounds.”

Nelly Coakley is remembering when she volunteered to serve as a nurse in the Vietnam War in 1968. She was stationed with the Mobile Army 7th Surgical Hospital.

There’s a patient she says she’ll never forget, Corporal Richard Burns.

“They had just pronounced him dead. I took my hand and stroked his cheek. That’s when I stepped back and said, ‘His mother doesn’t even know her son is dead,’” she said.

About 20 years later, Nelly connected with the Burns family through a memorial.

“I was able to send his mother a photo of the gurney he was on and put an X on it and say, ‘This where your son was when he died,’” she said.

Nelly says this was a healing moment for her and believes healing for veterans can be tough because they may not know how to talk about it.

Nelly’s husband, Tom Coakley, had a different role during the war. He says serving as an infantryman in 1969 was life-changing.

“Nelly was putting people back together and saving lives, and we were destroying lives,” said Tom.

He fought until the day his platoon got ambushed and he lost his leg.

“I looked at my leg and saw this leg was at a right angle just hanging on, and this leg was chopped up badly and this arm was just flopping. I laid back down,” said Tom.

A husband and wife team remembering their very different roles in the Vietnam War.