By Marsha M. Brown
Well everybody, I’m happy to say that we had our Vietnam veteran’s picnic as planned! But before I thank all of the nice people who helped, I wish to thank our veterans who were able to come. They are why the picnic was planned; they are the people who share the special bond that only those who experienced Vietnam can truly understand.
In addition to various announcements of the event, Billy and I contacted fellow graduates of Manteo High School whom we understood had also served in Vietnam between the years of 1965 and 1968 when we graduated. When we called them, their voices beckoned yesteryear and they sounded just like we had remembered. Some said we probably wouldn’t recognize them and one veteran said we’d need “a wide angle lens in order to take a (his) picture”. I told him “no worry” we already had that covered with an ‘extra’ wide angle lens for Billy and I!
Thanks to help from friends and our church family we were able to find a fellow classmate and friend of mine who had lived in Colington prior to his service in Vietnam. It had been 45 years since we had last seen or spoken to each other and talking with him was a walk down memory lane. He told me he has lived in Illinois for quite some time and though unable to come this year, he added that he was grateful the picnic was taking place. He also shared with me that the very day he arrived from Vietnam into Oakland, CA wearing his service uniform he was greeted by someone who “spit” at him. He said following that warm and fuzzy greeting, he went into the restroom where he saw a very famous male celebrity. When the celebrity noticed his uniform, he asked my old friend if he had served in Vietnam. When he told him that he had, the well known icon who had apparently expressed negative distain for the Vietnam War publically and wondering if ‘our’ hero might have heard about it, asked my former classmate if he was “mad” at him upon which he responded by saying, “Yes sir…but I forgive you”.
Two things struck me; that he had responded so respectfully and that he responded as a Christian. Hopefully, the famous man privy to public platform and access to speak his mind against the Vietnam War was ashamed or at least embarrassed. In direct contrast, our Vietnam veteran Dare County boy who had served his country honorably, like so many and without a public forum in which to ‘vent’ his feelings, was the much bigger man. He didn’t go ‘gaw gaw’ over the celebrity…he had been through too much prior to getting off of that plane to come home. ‘Our’ guy’s priorities were aligned with respect, honor and dignity that far overshadowed his subject encounter. My friend was one of many men and women who had overcome things far greater in importance than anything Hollywood…or as my sweetie pie Billy calls it…“Holly-wierd” had to offer. I was glad to speak with my old high school chum and friend. He asked that I please keep him posted as to the next Vietnam veteran event in Dare County so he could hopefully attend and reunite with the others. I assured him I would.
Billy and I spoke to a lot of Vietnam veterans in the course of three weeks prior to the picnic. The veterans we talked with expressed gratitude for the event; sensitive reflection of the subject matter and more anticipation than reservation about connecting with fellow Vietnam ‘brothers’. None of the responses we heard were negative, none were critical and no comments about it being “long overdue” or “too little too late” were spoken. All of the Vietnam veterans without exception seemed grateful and honored. One veteran we called was leaving for Colorado for two weeks, another had promised his wife a birthday trip to New York and another without question would have come had he not had that terrible flu that’s going around. Again, everyone said they really wanted to come this year and would definitely plan on the second get together in 2014 if at all possible.
The picnic itself though planned very recently was a success. With the help of two more more very nice K.D.H. Town employees, we got everything unloaded and arranged inside the Kill Devil Hills Town Hall Meeting Room provided in order to accommodate for chilly weather. Between Billy and fellow veterans including Dare County Veterans Advisory Council Chairman Clarence Skinner, Vice Chairman Moncie ‘Punk’ Daniels and Council Members Clarence Lewis, Frank ‘Dale’ Draper and Joe Pope, veterans were introduced to each other, swapped stories, ate their lunch and enjoyed two beautiful sheet cakes donated by a veteran. They also received vital veteran information both verbally and as handouts and copies of the Vietnam Veterans Proclamation created by the Board of Commissioners were distributed. Everyone that I spoke to seemed to enjoy the time together and expressed sincere appreciation for the picnic. Also, a special poem about the Vietnam experience, which touched everyone there, was read out lout by a Vietnam veteran and resident of Hatteras Island. With Easter weekend and pre-planned scheduling conflicts the event was still a success. Mostly what we wanted to achieve was achieved; our goals were to start somewhere, even if on a small scale, to determine Vietnam veteran interest and to plan accordingly for next year. “Baby steps” as ‘Punk’ said and he was right. We learned a lot that day but mostly and without question that we needed to do it again in 2014 and on a much larger scale…and we will!
I saw smiling happy faces of men glad to see and hug each other; I heard them talk about their service in Vietnam; what branch they served with; where and how long they had served and I was proud and happy just to see them together. They wore their Vietnam hats, T-shirts and vests decorated with patches and pins that tell veterans ‘in the know’ unit location, service branch, skills, combat infantry, etc. Over time I’ve learned that many veterans choose not to wear anything that identifies their service in Vietnam mostly because of “stupid” questions some people ask. If you know a Vietnam veteran you know what those questions are…I’ll leave it at that.
Really…great guys united with similar history and experiences made it an exceptional day. The weather was beautiful, everyone brought their lunch as asked, no one complained…and the gathering was memorable. The fellows were provided an array of valuable info about Agent Orange as well as updated booklets on P.T.S.D. and Depression. Billy said some of the veterans told him they had never, ever filed a VA claim of any sort. That means they had never used any of their G.I. Bill benefits for education for themselves or their children; had not acquired a VA Mortgage Loan; had received no entitlements or disability benefits including VA health care, prescriptions, or medical evaluations especially regarding with regard to Agent Orange.
I hope that all Vietnam veterans, who deserve so much, will realize their value in American history and claim e-v-e-r-y thing that is due them. The price they paid is astronomical and in retrospect, the benefits and return…miniscule in comparison. All these years after having been exposed to hazardous chemicals, they have asked for nothing…except respect. Now its time to collect on hard earned dividends. Time is wasting. According to several Internet sites I’ve been referred to recently, only about 1/3 of the American Vietnam veterans who served are still alive. Please seek the benefits and/or entitlements you are due…they aren’t a gift and if you feel they are…just know they are pre-paid!
Personally? I was blessed just to be a part of it. Seeing the guys together was very special to me. When a veteran complimented “GIG LINE” to both Billy and I it touched my heart. The things he said were extremely nice and I’ll never forget his praise that day. The simple truth is that the inspiration for GIG LINE is from God and my sweet Vietnam veteran husband Billy. Years ago my Manteo High School English teacher, Wayne Gray of Wanchese, taught me to embrace my love for writing and believe that I had feelings and experiences worthy of notation. He inspired me to believe in myself and to mean what I say and say what I mean…and I do. I’ll always love Mr. Gray for that and I hope that one day GIG LINE will help Vietnam veterans feel better about themselves and their service in Vietnam. They did what they had to do. They carried out the duties for which they were assigned and I thank God they did so that many of them could come home and see the light of day again with the rest of us who love them. God bless all of our military fighters for freedom everywhere who may still be P.O.W. or Missing In Action around the world.
The Town of Kill Devil Hills went above and beyond not only to accommodate the Vietnam veteran’s picnic but through every aspect leading up to it. The contacts I’ve had through and including the Town Commissioners meeting on March 20th where Mayor Davies read and presented a Proclamation honoring Vietnam Veterans; to the set up and close of the event last Saturday was first class…seriously…first class. I can’t even begin to express our appreciation for the Town of Kill Devil Hills for their attention to detail, their welcome and embrace to Vietnam veterans and for their overall exceptional hospitality. Thank you to all of you and notably Mary E. for her expedient response, follow up and her interest both personally and professionally – we appreciate you greatly! Good Lord willing next year we’ll have another picnic for Vietnam veterans and their families…and trust me when I tell you, it will be a doozey! Just wait and see! In fact, plans are already underway. Our veterans deserve it and the time to say thank you IS, in my opinion long overdue.
If you have a skill, talent or idea that would help us to unveil the most fantastic 2014 Vietnam veteran event imaginable, please get in touch with me at cell: (252) 202-2058.
If you would like to make a donation to help support our Dare County Veterans Advisory Council projects, please make your check payable to: Dare County, PO Box 1000, Manteo, N.C. 27954 andnotate “Veterans Advisory Council” or “D.C.V.A.C.”
Thank you for reading GIG LINE. Be happy, be safe, be proud and please take the time to thank a veteran. Until next time, stay tuned…