Pa. Local Gives Vietnam Vets Their Due
May 14, 2014
The Erie County Vietnam Veterans Memorial is shining a little brighter after a new set of lights were unveiled May 3.
Active and retired Erie, Pa., Local 56 members donated their time and labor, while signatory contractor Church & Murdock Electric Inc., donated materials to rewire and install a new lighting system for the monument.
“The response for volunteers was amazing,” Local 56 Business Manager Matthew McLaughlin said. “We had retirees come with a cane in one hand and a shovel in the other.”
Spearheading the effort was Local 56 retiree Greg Gehrlein.
When Gehrlein returned from Vietnam in 1969, not a lot of people wanted to hear about his service. Drafted into the U.S. Army, he served one year in the conflict, which cost the lives of more than 58,000 Americans.
“The war was really unpopular, and some people took out their frustrations on the vets,” he said. “Men like me who served kind of stayed in the closet about it.”
After coming home, Gehrlein went into the electrical trade, working as an inside electrician for nearly four decades.
He didn’t talk about the war much on the job, but since retiring, Gehrlein has devoted his time to veterans’ issues. He drove a shuttle van for veterans, who, because of health or financial hardships were unable to transport themselves, to medical appointments at the area Veterans Affairs hospital.
“I talked with vets from WWII to guys just back from Iraq or Afghanistan,” he said.
But it was the opening of the local Vietnam veterans’ memorial that convinced Gehrlein to get re-connected with his fellow vets. He joined the local chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America, which helped set up the memorial.
Earlier this year, he was checking out a burned out light at the monument when the noticed that the wiring for the entire lighting system was faulty.
The price tag for the upgrade would run more than $10,000, so he got the IBEW to pitch in.
“I’m ecstatic with the number of electricians who showed up,” he said.
Local 56 also purchased memorial pavers for the eight members who are Vietnam veterans.
The final dedication for the monument is scheduled for Memorial Day.