As a member of a national organization such as VVA, opportunities present themselves that normally would not be available. Two recent veterans events demonstrate how important it is to be involved in your local community.
Many Vietnam veterans have not interacted with the Vietnamese people. I am fortunate to live just a few miles from Little Saigon in Orange County, California. My work as a mentor to high school students allows me to work with hundreds of young Vietnamese Americans. They are a dedicated and spirited group whose parents support their community service efforts.
On March 26 more than a hundred Vietnam veterans attended a “Thank You Vietnam Veterans Party” in Little Saigon. We met many refugees from South Vietnam—“the same people, ” they said, “that you had spilled your blood and sweat trying to protect from the communists.”
They repeatedly thanked us. Because of us, they are “now living a free life in the greatest nation on earth, the USA.” I had the honor of sitting with Westminster Mayor Tri Ta, who gave an emotional speech about how his future was made possible by America’s veterans. We were treated to delicious food, American oldies music, dancing, and gifts. A Vietnamese “Tina Turner” put on quite a show.
The event was sponsored by VVA and the Volunteer Country Feet Band of Southern California, which supports homeless shelters, nursing homes, and senior centers. The band leaders, Thai and Diamond, provide scholarships to children of Vietnam veterans in Duluth, Minnesota.
A second opportunity came about due to a grant from Veterans First in Orange County, which provides housing, job prep, and other services to veterans. They joined with the Chance Theater in Anaheim to present a reading of Veterans’ Stories , which included five Vietnam veterans, one Gulf War veteran, and one Afghanistan War veteran.
First performed on Veterans Day last year to a sold-out audience, the program was reprised March 12.
It included a Q&A with the audience and a meet and greet. The audience was enthusiastic, but the true power of storytelling came from one of the Vietnam veterans who had never talked about his experiences. For him it was cathartic and put an end to his frequent nightmares. For all of us who participated, it was an uplifting experience.
Both these events demonstrate the importance of being out in the community, letting people know that we are here, and making a difference for all veterans.
Frank Barry, Chair