AN AFTERNOON REMEMBERING VIETNAM
I knew the afternoon might be an emotional one, one that was filled with memories of a time riddled with enormous loss-the Vietnam war.
On Wednesday, September 13,Chip Kelleher (a USNA alum, teammate of Nate Hardy, a Navy SEAL to whom OHT is dedicated, and an OHT Board member) and I went to the New England Center Home for Veterans in downtown Boston. The newly renovated facility was once a beautiful bank and over the past three years has been renovated to accommodate the most needy and precarious of our veterans-the homeless. It is a most magnificent facility and a model for other cities to emulate. It is also a facility where homeless veterans live or drop in to receive the help/care they need. The Center treats each and every veteran with the respect, care and dignity they so deserve. www.nechv.org
On this Wednesday we had been invited to an exclusive showing of parts of the film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, THE VIETNAM WAR. (All 18 hours of The Vietnam War can be seen on PBS starting in segments on Sept 17). Taking over 10 years to complete, Burns and Novick have captured the war perfectly.
The room was nearly full of every age group but mostly with those who went through the war either as a dratee, enlistee, family member, or those who simply “remembered”. The film was just as I had predicted to myself-poignant, emotional, powerful and full of those days when our “kids”, and they were kids, were fighting a very unpopular war and the casualties were more than we could imagine.
I found myself sitting there thinking back to Hal, a college friend who was a conservative, straight-laced, bright, ambitious young man who was going places. Then he was drafted and deployed to Vietnam. Luckily, Hal came home but to a country that was angry and not at all welcoming to Vietnam veterans. Hal’s injuries were invisible and he struggled immensely finally dropping out of college, letting his hair grow to Mountain Man proportions, became a frequent marijuana user, and tried to commit suicide several times. He lived in a tent in the woods and would never be the man we all knew. The demons were just too great.
So we watched the film and remembered this very difficult time in our history. After the film, a panel of 13 Vietnam veterans spoke about their experiences in Vietnam. Like most who served then, they didn’t want to talk about the finer details of their time there. But they did say they had all been young, some had been just 18. All had witnessed horrible atrocities and one had been a POW for 7 years,2 of which where he was listed as MIA. Imagine his mother not knowing if her son was dead or alive, I thought? (This veteran had celebrated St Patrick’s Day many times over the course of the day he returned home. You see when he crossed the International Date Line, it was St Patrick’s Day again and then due to time changes across the country he got to celebrate 5 different times. And how he served to do that!!!!!) And a few were very emotional as they recalled best friends and teammates who had been killed. After 50 years the loss was still as raw as it had been in 1967.
All were all happy to have served their country and all said they would do it again tomorrow. Amazing I thought. And all were happy to have been thanked for their service even if it came many years later. Remember they came back to a hostile homecoming. BUT the one thing they all are still waiting to hear and the thing that would mean the most to them is “Welcome Home”. So yes we all stood, gave them an ovation and cheered “Welcome Home”.
I hope you will watch THE VIETNAM WAR. We must NEVER FORGET.
Operation Hat Trick supports the New England Center and Home for Veterans Senior program which is their Vietnam veterans program. When OHT heard the government, in their infinite wisdom, had cut the Senior program, we knew that’s where some of our money had to go. We are helping to make a difference along with others who have stepped up to make sure these veterans receive the ongoing services, programming and help they need.
“OHT supports the recovery of wounded service members and veterans through the sale of OHT branded merchandise, proceeds of which are donated to selected organizations that support OHT’s mission.” T
HEY PROMISED TO DEFEND WE PROMISE TO SUPPORT”
Go to www.operationhattrick.org for more information, or to make a purchase or donation.
Operation Hat Trick
The Founder’s Blog is a regular feature on the Operation Hat trick website. This blog will give you information and recount stories of our journey to help those in need. To read our most recent blog and find archived blog posts, please visit our “Founder’s Blog” page.