A visit to a Vietnam War exhibit in Melbourne and a talk with Ben Bydalek is likely to give visitors a clear perception of the war that was a sad period of American history.
Divisions in the nation at the time created by protesters and politicians, obscured the contributions and sacrifices of the Vietnam veterans.
To see the Military Patriots’ Vietnam War Exhibit and Education Center in Melbourne and hear an explanation about the war and the artifacts is to gain new perception and a better understanding of the war.
The Vietnam War Exhibit and Education Center is currently housed in three rooms of a building in an industrial area at 2475 Jen Drive, Suite 5 in Melbourne.
“My vision is to relocate to a much larger facility, one with more traffic,” said Bydalek, a U.S. Marine who served for 13 months in combat in Vietnam, from October 1966 to November 1967.
Even some who served in Vietnam might not have ever seen some of the items exhibited at the center. It is an emotional visit for some who were there.
“Most people are overwhelmed,” said Bydalek, who served with the 105th Artillery, 5th Marine.
The exhibit of hundreds of items includes weapons, flares, radios, uniforms, helmets, flak jackets, canteens, posters, magazines, photos and tools.
“You see it there, you read about it here and you see it being used in-country,” Bydalek said as he pointed out some of the exhibit, a collection he started 40 years ago. He said he had not originally set out to amass such a collection of artifacts.
The center is supported entirely by donations. It also welcomes volunteers and donations of memorabilia.
The exhibit even includes information about post-traumatic stress disorder and Agent Orange. Bydalek said that 17 veterans with whom he met periodically for breakfast through the years, have died from illnesses caused by Agent Orange.
“This is the wall I wish that I can impart more about, Agent Orange,” Bydalek said as his emotions caused him to pause momentarily as he thought of friends lost to the effects of the defoliant chemical.
Many Vietnam veterans are still becoming ill and dying from the effects of Agent Orange, an herbicide and defoliant used extensively during the war.
U.S. troops fighting in Vietnam served about 240 days in combat, far more than during World War II or other wars. A typical tour of duty was 12 months.
Beverly Sangeleer enthusiastically points out exhibits to which she is very familiar. She served in the Navy Nurses Corps and treated many of the wounded stabilized by Corpsmen and brought from Vietnam to Philadelphia Naval Hospital.
“They patched them up and sent them to us for long-term care,” said Sangeleer, who turned 21 during her two years treating the Vietnam wounded. “That’s all I dealt with.”
More than 150,000 troops were wounded in the war and 58,000 died.
One of those killed on May 3, 1967 was James D. Borowski. A mortar attack that killed Borowski also wounded Bydalek. Years later, Bydalek would contact the family of Borowski, whose photo and story are part of the exhibit.
The Vietnam War Exhibit and Education Center is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. For special visits at other times or other information, call 321- 212-9726 or visit vietnamwarexhibit.com/.