Veteran Salute: Service is a family tradition

Veteran Salute

A Vietnam veteran said he was inspired to serve by his two heroes, his father and brother.

Tom DeMayo was just 18 when he got his draft notice, and he said two days later he enlisted in the Navy.

“It makes me feel good to do it,” Vietnam Veteran Tom DeMayo said.

All these years after he served in Vietnam, DeMayo now stays busy making American flags.

“To do the whole flag is six hours,” DeMayo said.

He is from a very patriotic family.

DeMayo is the son of a 30-year Navy veteran, who served in WWII and the Korean War, and was also a chief recruiter for the state of New York.

His brother was also a sailor and worked on a mine sweeper.

“I wanted to sleep in a bed, not a foxhole,” DeMayo said.

He said he didn’t want to go on the ground, but he had no problem doing his time as a gunner’s mate.

“This gun turret here is the one I was in,” DeMayo said.

The sailors were serving on the U.S.S. Newport News.

“It was the last big gun ship, that was still in use,” DeMayo said.

The last in the entire Navy fleet, and because of the big guns, and the blast they gave off, the ship had a solid wooden deck.

“There’s all the ammunition,” DeMayo said.

He said he will never forget what it feels like when the alarm sounds.

“Organized chaos for however long we were in the fire fight,” DeMayo said.

He said they were 17 miles off shore.

“We would fire shore support so that the troops would have cover, as they were pulling back,” Demayo said. “We were keeping the north Vietnamese from attacking them, as they were withdrawing.”

The ship was known as the Grey Ghost from the East Coast because of how they would light up the night.

“We would go in and shell at night, and then go back out to sea during the day, to rearm, take on more ammunition, to go back in,” DeMayo said.

He said it was rapid fire, blowing out of three turrets.

“We could launch one eight-inch round, and before it could reach the ground, 17 miles away, we could have 70 more in the air behind it,” DeMayo said.

He said on October 1st of 1962, a round of ammunition went off, on the ship.

“It killed everybody, all five decks down,” DeMayo said.

He said he honored the fallen sailors on his first trip to see the Vietnam Memorial Wall in D.C.

“It took some time, to get up the gumption, to go down to the wall,” DeMayo said.

The fatal explosion took the lives of 22 sailors.

“That was kind of emotional to find all their names together,” DeMayo said.

Now, as a Kansas Honor Flight volunteer he helps other veterans experience that form of healing.

“We’ve had a lot of letters from families, and stuff, that the veterans have never spoken about what they did in the service, and where they were in the service until they went on an Honor Flight and came back,” DeMayo said.

He is passing on his family’s legacy of service, as his granddaughter started volunteering for the nonprofit when she was just a child.

“Makes me extremely proud, extremely proud, to have her want to be involved,” DeMayo said.

She’s now a teenager and hopes to go as a guardian someday to D.C., it’s clear she’s learned the importance of service.

DeMayo has already made 50 American flags and brings in donations for the Honor Flight when he sells them.

His time and talent ensure more heroes can make the trip of a lifetime.

“Basically, just take them on a tour to thank them for their service,” DeMayo said. “A lot of them it’s closure, especially for the Vietnam veterans, to take them to the wall.”

The U.S.S. Newport News was decommissioned in 1975, and DeMayo said part of the scrap was sold to a razor blade company.

He said judging by the size of the ship, people are probably still shaving with razors made from the scrap metal.

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