A publication of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

February 2000/March 2000

Member Profile: Bill Meeks

Deep In The Heart Of Texas

By Jim Belshaw

Bill Meeks, Vietnam Veterans of America’s 1999 Member of the Year, heard about VVA in 1991. He'd gone to a Desert Storm parade in Houston and ran into an old friend. He'd seen him occasionally at reunions since about 1987, but he hadn't planned on meeting anyone at the parade. The friend told him he'd found an organization he thought Meeks would like. It was called Vietnam Veterans of America.

"I told him I'd never heard of it," Meeks said.

But he'd been looking for something ever since he came back from Vietnam. The former Marine radioman had served 100 days in-country before being wounded and sent home.

In 1975, he had joined another veterans organization but didn't stay. "They didn't do anything but sit and argue during the meeting and the break and then they'd drink in the bar," he said. The old-line veterans organization wasn’t what he was looking for.

So when his friend suggested VVA, Meeks thought he'd give it a try.

"I went to that first meeting and I didn't miss any more after that," he said. "I liked the camaraderie. It all clicked. They were productive. They didn't sit in the meeting and argue. They covered issues. They had involvement in the community. They worked the concessions at Rice Stadium to earn money. They weren't out on the streets begging. They were go-getters; they were workers. And that's what I like."

His four kids are grown now and he has six grandchildren. He works for an engineering firm in Houston, where he runs the inspection department. Meeks does a little hunting and fishing these days but says his full-time hobby is VVA.

He's a life member and is president of Chapter 734 in Conroe, Texas. He's also president of the Texas State Council and has held many other positions in VVA.

Meeks said he's never regretted his decision to join.

"I like the work ethic of our organization," he said. "We're doing stuff to better ourselves and our families and our communities. I'm giving something back. We have a good group of brothers and sisters who are more concerned with bettering their communities and their children's lives than they are with their own individual selves. I've met so many interesting people all over this country since I've become involved in VVA."

He sees the community involvement of the organization paying dividends in how Vietnam veterans are perceived by the community.

He believes Vietnam veterans are more caring and more involved in their communities, and he points to large standdowns in the Houston area and to the many missions in which VVA members collect and distribute blankets, coats, gloves, and food to the homeless. Meeks has worked with incarcerated veterans and participated in food bank collections and blood drives, though he's "not too crazy about needles."

"I like doing work," he said. "I'm a workaholic. And I haven't met many people in VVA I don't like. We can disagree on something, but we've always been able to work to get the mission done, no matter what we're working on. I like that."

Looking to VVA's future, Meeks says the organization probably won't increase its size substantially. He foresees the status quo being maintained and in the next five years or so, with many members nearing retirement age, a possible surge in involvement from people who haven't been active in the past.

"We went through a phase three or four years ago where we had quite a few nonrenewals, but in the last couple of years I've seen a trend in Texas in which we've had good luck in retaining members," he said.

"We've picked up some new members and we have 20 active chapters in the state, but Lord knows we could use a bunch more. You look at the membership force we have now and the ones who will volunteer and do the work are doing it already. And the others, they have enough to do with their own lives. So I see us maintaining what we have."

He drives more than 200 miles a day in his job and never fails to meet Vietnam veterans who--like himself in 1991--have never heard of VVA. Most tell him they don't have time for the organization's many activities. They have families and jobs to worry about.

Meeks "soft sells" VVA, leaving them with information but not pressuring them to join. "You can put too much pressure on prospective members. That pressure can cause them not to become involved," he said. "You need to guide them. Find what they like to do. Find what they're good at."

As for the long-term future, he said he can see the day when VVA may end as an organization. But that prospect doesn't bother him. He said its success already has been assured.

"You know what you hear from other organizations?" he said. "You hear this: ‘Well, what are you going to do when you get old and die? The organization will cease to exist.' I say, ‘So what?’ Even if it ceases to exist, it served its purpose. We have bettered our lives and our kids' lives, and we have earned the respect of everyone who once heckled us. That's extremely important."

 

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