A festival planned for Bader Field this summer promises to give Vietnam veterans “the welcome home you never received.”
VetRock will bring music, vendors and speakers including retired Lt. Col. Oliver North to the venue in Atlantic City’s Chelsea Heights on June 1.
“Vietnam veterans are always at the front to welcome home the guys,” said Michael Merlino, who hosts Veterans Matter on WPG 1450AM. “Now they’re coming of age and have a lot of medical issues. A lot of them are suffering and not a lot is being done.”
Bader Field has gained popularity as an entertainment venue in recent years, with the Dave Matthews Band, Phish and the Orion Music + More Festival featuring Metallica leading the way. But for this, the city is “renting” the former airport for just $1, Merlino said.
Originally, the event was going to be held at the Surf Stadium, but then the event got too big, said the Rev. Mark-Anthony Rassmann, who is coordinating.
“We didn’t know what it was going to cost,” Merlino said Friday, crediting Mayor Lorenzo Langford and City Council. “The city has been just great, so supportive.”
Langford could not be reached for comment Friday.
Keynote speaker North is fitting since “no one represents Vietnam veterans more than he does,” Merlino said. The Marine was awarded Silver Star, Bronze Star Medal and two Purple Hearts.
And Atlantic City is the perfect venue, said Rassmann, a retired city police officer who now lives in Egg Harbor Township.
“This is the first of a country tour,” he said. “Atlantic City is our home, but we want to take this to every state.”
His goal is to raise $1 million in this first stop — with at least half of that coming from ticket sales. All of the money will go to charity, he said.
Rassmann said he hopes the event will attract 25,000 people.
“When our troops came home (from Vietnam), they were ostracized,” Rassmann said. “We need to let them know their lives weren’t for nothing, that they have never been forgotten.”
Rassmann said the veterans will be invited guests and will not have to pay admission.
The event is also a way for Merlino to honor his former partner in this work, April Kauffman, who was killed last May in her Linwood home. The slain radio host was known for her work on veterans’ issues and the Wounded Warriors Project.
Both had been working on a golf tournament when Kauffman was killed.
“Let her be remembered for what it is she wanted it to be,” Rassmann said.
Musical guests will be from the Vietnam War era, including tentative plans to have Mark Farner, lead singer of Grand Funk Railroad, which topped the charts at that time.
There are also talks of having Explorers — the youth who work with local law enforcement — work the parking area and help officers, confirmed Sheriff Frank Balles. Explorers from his office along with those from the Atlantic City and Pleasantville police departments could join, with the group making a donation to the Explorers program.
“We want to make it a day that everyone can enjoy,” Merlino said.
The more than 400 Veterans of Foreign Wars chapters in South Jersey will benefit, Rassmann said.
“This money will help bring them relief,” he said. “We just want them to pull up to the event and just go, ‘Oh my God.’”
For more information
To learn more about VetRock or volunteer to help, go online at wisercharitable.org/vr_index.html
Tickets may also be purchased through the website for $25 each. Children younger than 10 are free.
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