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September/october 2009

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BY MARC LEEPSON
"This has been a Convention without contention,” VVA National President John Rowan said on Saturday, August 1, near the end of VVA’s 14th biennial National Convention held at the huge, two-towered Galt House Hotel in downtown Louisville, Kentucky. “In some ways I miss the old days when there were big battles on the floor and tense electioneering. But VVA has accomplished a lot since the Founding Convention in 1983. We can be proud of all of those accomplishments as we continue our mandate to take care of the nation’s Vietnam veterans.”
A crowd of nearly a thousand VVA delegates, AVVA members, and guests took part in the Convention, which began Wednesday morning, July 29, and ended with a star-studded Awards Banquet on Saturday evening. In between, the 657 delegates from VVA chapters around the nation sat in Convention for four days and in evening caucuses and national committee meetings to debate resolutions and consider a handful of Constitutional Amendments.
The solemn and stirring Opening Ceremonies featured a call to arms by Keynote Speaker Retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, known as the “Category Five General” for leading New Orleans back from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Gen. Honoré exhorted VVA members to be prepared for Katrina-like emergencies. “You gotta join the sheepdog club,” the General said, “for when the wolves come to the door.”
VVA members and guests roared with approval. “He could have spoken for an hour, as far as I was concerned,” said George Biswell, a 22-year member of Kansas City, Mo., Chapter 317 attending his first VVA Convention.
The results of the Friday morning voting: VVA President John Rowan, Vice President Jack Devine, and Secretary Barry Hagge were re-elected to their third two-year terms. Larry Frazee succeeded retiring Alan Cook as National Treasurer. Cook was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Opening Ceremonies honoring his many years of service to VVA.
The ten winners of the at-large seats to the Board of Directors were: Marsha Four, Bill Meeks, Patrick Welch, Dan Stenvold, John Margowski, Thomas Burke, Jerry Yamamoto, Sandie Wilson, Pat Bessigano, and Richard DeLong. The winners of the Regional Director races were: Wayne Cartier, Region 1; Fred Elliott, Region 2; Bruce Whitaker, Region 3; Carol Schetrompf, Region 4; Tom Meinhardt, Region 5; Steve House, Region 6; Allen Manuel, Region 7; Francis Rowan, Region 8; and Dick Southern, Region 9.
The officers and new board were sworn in on Saturday morning by actor Jon Voight, who had just addressed the delegates about setting aside March 28 as national Vietnam Veterans Remembrance Day. Bill Nelson, the chairman and CEO of HBO (and VVA member), introduced the Saturday afternoon screening of the acclaimed HBO film Taking Chance. Also on hand for that event were former Marine LTC Mike Strobl, who co-wrote the screenplay based on his experiences escorting the body of Marine LCP Chance Phelps to his home in Wyoming, and the artist and Vietnam veteran John Phelps, Chance Phelps’ father.
After that screening, Nelson, Strobl, John Phelps, and Voight took part in an autographing session that also included former Miss America Heather French Henry. They were joined by Pat Sajak, the Wheel of Fortune host who served as an AFVN disk jockey in Vietnam in 1969-70, Blue-Eyed Soul (Michelle DellaFave and Lindsay Bloom), and authors Eric Haney (Inside Delta Force) and Linda West (Beyond the Rice Paddies). During the morning Convention session, West received the VVA Achievement Award.
The Convention ended with the big Saturday night Awards Banquet. Sajak and Phelps received VVA’s Excellence in the Arts Awards. “There is nothing I treasure more than this,” Sajak said in his acceptance speech. Strobl received the VVA’s President’s Award, and Voight was recognized for his acting and his work for Vietnam veterans. “This is a big moment in my life,” Voight told the gathering.
Following the ceremonies, Len Ignatowski, the president of Northern Virginia Chapter 227, summed up the feelings of many Convention goers: “This is my fifth National Convention,” he said. “The Conventions are like a bottle of good Kentucky bourbon, they get better with each passing year. The sessions were well-managed, and information sessions and the Awards Banquet were great.”

 

 

 

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