Shorter Version for those with little time:
~ Stories are the shortest route between two people.
~ It’s never too late to thank a Vietnam veteran, ask them to share a story, then thank them again.
~ Listening deeply, attentively, and without judgment to stories from anybody (but especially veterans) can be healing for the teller and educational for the receiver.
Our daughter loves history and hates injustice, so last spring when she discovered that this year is the 40th anniversary of the last US troop withdrawal from Vietnam, she decided to throw a belated Welcome Home for the Vietnam veterans, including a parade and a program. It took place last Saturday, 9/28/13.
The parade boasted fly-overs by Vietnam helicopters and airplanes, along with various other Vietnam War vehicles. There were cars – now vintage cars – that veterans ordered while they were in Vietnam to have waiting on them when they got home.
Some Vietnam veterans (including some of my friends) couldn’t bring themselves to be in or even watch the parade – they just couldn’t – but others did, some at the very last minute. Wives came with husbands and beamed with pride as their veteran stood in his uniform when his branch was recognized. Adult children came and were amazed at some of the things they learned that day. Parents and grandparents who have no ties to the Vietnam War brought their children and grandchildren, giving them an opportunity to learn history from primary sources and encouraging them to talk to the veterans then quizzing them about what they learned.
Stories floated through the air. Oh my goodness did we hear stories . . .
You may remember POW/MIA bracelets, and how we wore them until our soldier came home. The program started by remembering those who did not make it home, and David, our first speaker, told us about his brother Gary who was Missing In Action for 41 years – forty-one years – then he thanked the US military for not giving up until his brothers remains were found, identified, and given appropriate burial.
You may remember that returning soldiers were spat on, shunned, had tomatoes thrown at them. We heard story after story of how badly they were treated by people who were actually angry with the decision makers but took it out on the veterans. It was not America’s finest hour.
Tom flew missions over Vietnam, and he’s still very angry (as are many other veterans). We heard lots of anger, and I don’t know about you, but I think these fellas have earned the right to be angry.
Billy was responsible for sweeping mine fields, and he closed his story by telling us that while they may joke about Air Force people getting manicures and pedicures, they were and still are brothers. It took a team, he says. Without one branch doing their job, the other branches were in peril and unable to do their jobs.
You may remember the casualty counts reported at the end of the daily 6:00 newscast. Stubby drove a truck and told us bout making deliveries. They’d unload the trucks, then wait while their trucks were loaded for the return trip. Other people loaded the trucks so that Stubby and the other drivers wouldn’t know which ones were carrying supplies and which ones were carrying the KIA’s (Killed in Action).
In between the stories my daughter and her trio, Bombshells United, performed period music specially requested by the veterans. The number one request? The Animals singing We Gotta’ Get Out of This Place. After hearing their stories, I understand more than ever why that song holds such a special place for them.
It was a magical day, a healing day, an educational day. It was a day when grown men cried, and we cried right alongside them. It was a day when we came together to honor these men and women, giving them the homecoming they should’ve received 40 years ago. If you know a Vietnam veteran, how ’bout thanking them for their service for me, will ya’? And ask them to tell you a story cause their stories need to be told . . . and heard.
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Jeanne Hewell-Chambers is at the International Storytelling Festival this weekend, which means she’s a happy, happy girl.