Chapter 1116 of the Vietnam Veterans of America officially came into existence Monday evening.
Serving Burke County and the surrounding area, the chapter held a special chartering ceremony at Timberwoods restaurant to commemorate the occasion, featuring state representatives from the national organization.
Rossie Nance, the North Carolina state council president; Joe Kristek, former state council president; and VVA state board member Allan Perkal traveled to Morganton to present the new chapter with its charter and articles of incorporation. Nance also swore in the officers.
Larry Britt will serve as president of the organization, with Wayne Rodgers serving as vice president, Champ Ray as secretary, Gary Jennings as treasurer and Jim Mace as chaplain.
Britt said the group has been meeting and attracting interested veterans for several months now, and recently got enough at-large members to apply to become a chapter.
“We got a group together who decided it would be a good idea to have a place for the Vietnam veterans to gather here locally and fellowship with other people who have had that experience, ” Britt said.
Nance said there are now a total of 23 VVA chapters in North Carolina, comprising about 2200 members. Up until the chartering of the local chapter, the closest chapters for veterans to participate in were in Asheville and Charlotte.
Nance said the purpose of the organization on a national level is for members to offer support to veterans of all wars and their families. He cited the VVA founding principle: “Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.”
“We don’t turn our back on any veteran, ” he said.
Perkal, a retired VA PTSD therapist, said a lot of the chapters focus on helping veterans of current conflicts transition when they return home.
“We don’t want to happen to the younger generation what happened to our generation, (which was) blaming the warrior for the war, ” Perkal said. “So (we focus on) welcoming them home and helping them through their adjustment to civilian life.”
Nance said the VVA offers informational meetings and resources for issues that still affect Vietnam veterans, such as PTSD and Agent Orange poisoning.
He explained that Agent Orange, a chemical warfare product used in Vietnam, not only caused debilitating side effects in veterans, but also got passed down through their genes to their children and grand-children, causing birth defects.
“We all fought a war in Vietnam, and when we came home, we thought that war was over, and we’d live a normal life, ” Nance said. “But when we got home, we found out we were fighting another war on the children and grandchildren with the disabilities. The war continues for us.”
Perkal said the chapters help veterans and their families deal with the long-ranging consequences resulting from decades of dealing with problems like PTSD and Agent Orange.
“It’s an ongoing thing, how you manage this throughout your life, and how you deal with the health issues as you’re aging, ” Perkal said. “So that’s what we’re here for, to help our generation continue to thrive as they get older.”
He said some chapters also do service projects in the community, such as building handicap-access ramps and visiting veterans in nursing homes.
“Being in the chapter is about camaraderie and brotherhood and sisterhood, but it’s also about giving back to the community, ” Perkal said. “Depending on what the community’s needs are, the chapter responds.”
Both the state and local representatives extended a special invitation to female Vietnam veterans to consider joining the chapter. Perkal explained that women who served in Vietnam may be put off by what seems a male-dominated organization.
“It’s taken a long time to get women involved in these activities, ” Perkal said. “They live amongst us, but they don’t join. It was hard to get them into treatment. A lot of the women who served were nurses. They were the caretakers, and it’s hard for a caretaker to acknowledge that there’s something going on, and to come for help.”
Britt echoed Perkal’s thoughts.
“We know the female veterans are out there, we just don’t know who they are, ” Britt said. “They had it just as rough as we men did, and then some. We’d love to have them come out.”
Nance said lifetime membership in the national VVA costs $100.
Britt advised anyone interested in joining the new local chapter to attend a meeting, which he said will take place every third Monday of the month at 6 p.m. at Timberwoods.
Story courtesy of Tammie Gercken at The News Herald .