June 2001/July 2001
The Privilege of Honoring
By George C. Duggins
When I first became president of Vietnam Veterans of America in
January 1997, morale was at its lowest point in VVA's history. We
were consumed with self-doubt, an atmosphere of suspicion engulfed
us as an organization and as individuals, and darkness obscured
our view of the future.
Since those dark days we have come a long, long way. Through
your efforts and your commitment to VVA's founding principles, we
have triumphed in ways that none of us ever could have expected.
In October 1998, we began our third decade "In Service To
America'' with a tremendous celebration of our first 20 years. We
spent some time that evening reflecting on our successes and
failures. That self-examination has given us new energy and a
renewed sense of dedication to our motto: "Never Again Will
One Generation of Veterans Abandon Another.''
Our leadership role in the passage of landmark legislation
securing the Vet Center program and compensation for the offspring
of Vietnam veterans suffering the effects of Agent Orange
poisoning are proud moments. But we cannot be satisfied or content
to celebrate our past accomplishments. We can and must continue
our leadership in veterans' affairs.
We have long been a strong and forceful advocate for veterans'
rights in Congress and in our state and local legislative bodies.
Our voices have been heard. Where ten or so years ago we had to
plead for a seat at the table, our credibility has grown to the
point where legislators and allies seek our views and counsel. VVA
is a full partner in the community of veterans and a respected
leader in the legislative assembly rooms across our great country.
This has not become a reality because of any one individual,
but rather as a result of the commitment and the intense focus
each of you has brought to this struggle. To be certain, we have a
long way to go before we get where we want to be. We may not get
there in our lifetimes. The fact is, however, that because of the
pioneering efforts of Vietnam Veterans of America, succeeding
generations of veterans will have a position of strength. Our
members have empowered every veteran by their hard work and
We have taken bold steps during the last several years to
expand our universe and to create an environment in which Vietnam
Veterans of America is the veterans service organization of choice
for those who seek information and assistance.
Rendezvous With War, the three-day forum we held last year
to observe the 25th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, was
the first time VVA ventured into a major educational effort.
That conference, sponsored jointly with the College of William
& Mary, examined the war through the eyes of the journalists,
historians, and veterans who took part in it. The conference was
widely praised. It was a remarkable event that broke new ground in
the effort to present the experience of the war to a new
In June, VVA sponsored the Pentagon Papers Symposium at the
National Press Club in Washington. The symposium featured Daniel
Ellsberg and other participants in the confrontation over the
right of a free press and the right of the people to know what
their government does.
These two ground-breaking events demonstrate to our membership
and to the public that VVA is not your typical veterans'
organization. We have always attempted to expand the boundaries of
our work, and these two events are a prelude to what we will
accomplish in the future.
As Vietnam veterans, each of us feels the pain and suffering of
our brothers and sisters in arms. We hurt when they do. We have a
sacred trust with our fellow veterans and with those who are
recorded on memorials across this country to live for them and to
do the work we know they would have done had they been given the
In closing, I would like to say what joy and pleasure I have
received from my association with VVA. The friendships I have made
will remain with me throughout my days. I want to assure you that
while I may not hold office, you will still see me around the old
Aside from my immediate family, the time I have spent in your
service has been the most rewarding and gratifying time of my
life. Thank you for the opportunity to serve. It has been my honor