The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

August/September 2003
FEATURE ARTICLE
   
 

Silver & Gold:
VVA's 25th Anniversary and 11th National Convention

A VVA VETERAN STAFF REPORT


Just about any way you looked at it, VVA's 11th National Convention, held July 29-August 3 in the shadow of the Gateway Arch at the Adam's Mark Hotel in downtown St. Louis, was a smashing success. A total of 611 delegates from VVA chapters across the country and Puerto Rico rolled up their sleeves and debated resolutions and constitutional amendments during four days of often frenetic activity on the Convention floor. The results set VVA's course for the next two years.

The delegates on Friday cast their votes for VVA's national officers and national Board of Directors in a fair and open election monitored by the League of Women Voters. VVA President Tom Corey and Vice President Ed Chow were re-elected. They are joined by two new national officers, Secretary Jimmy Grissom and Treasurer Alan Cook.

Eighteen VVA members ran for the ten at-large seats on the Board of Directors. The winning candidates were: Marsha Four, Bill Meeks, Randy Barnes, Jerry Klein, Sandie Wilson. Charles Richardson, Dave McMichael, John Rowan, Lee E. Fisher, and Steve Mason. There were contested races in five of the nine VVA regions. The winners in those races were Larry Goucher in Region 1, Fred Elliott in Region 2, Lupe Alviar, Jr., in Region 5, Steven House in Region 6, and Darrol L. Brown in Region 9. The other Region winners were Bruce Whitaker in Region 3, John Koprowski in Region 4, Allen J. Manuel (who was unable to attend the Convention because of illness) in Region 7, and Ronald McDole in Region 8.

"I thank all those who ran in all the elections," Corey said at the Saturday night Awards Banquet and 25th Anniversary Celebration before swearing in the new board. "And I encourage them to remain active in VVA 'In Service to America.' ''

The delegates, along with several hundred others in attendance, including many Associates of Vietnam Veterans of America (AVVA) who were holding their Leadership Conference, heard from an impressive array of speakers on the Convention floor and in events such as the Saturday Legislative Coordinators' Breakfast. That included Joe Maxwell, the lieutenant governor of Missouri, who spoke at the stirring Opening Ceremonies, and Medal of Honor recipient Paul "Buddy" Bucha, who electrified the crowd that morning with a rousing keynote speech, during which he exhorted veterans to make their voices heard in the political process by doing their duty as citizens and voting.

VA Secretary Anthony Principi addressed the Convention floor on Friday. He spoke of VVA members as "a band of brothers [in Vietnam] and a band of brothers for all time." Some influential legislators also came to St. Louis to speak to the troops: U.S. Rep. Lane Evans of Illinois; U.S. Sen. Jim Talent of Missouri; U.S. Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, who was named VVA Legislator of the Year; U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall of Georgia; and Rep. Jack Jackson of the Missouri House of Representatives.

Delegates began streaming into town on Tuesday, July 29. That morning many took part in the Mike Nash Scholarship Golf Tournament and VVA's Veterans Benefits Department held an all-day Advanced Service Representative Training. More than a hundred first-time delegates were briefed on what to expect at the Convention by Public Affairs Committee Chair Jim Doyle.

The Opening Ceremonies officially kicked off the Convention at 9:00 Wednesday morning. After the color guard from St. Louis-area Chapters 458 and 794 presented the colors, the delegates and guests rose for the National Anthem. The recorded music began and inexplicably cut off after a few seconds. Not missing a beat, everyone in the room sang out the words a capella. "That spontaneous singing of the Star Spangled Banner was an amazing and special thing,'' said former VVA President George Duggins, in attendance as a delegate from Virginia. "You couldn't have planned something like that."

Meghan Robinett, 12, of Kansas City, who led the Pledge of Allegiance at the 1997 National Convention, made a return visit - and one that was especially memorable since she is a cancer survivor, having been cancer-free for two years. The five service flags were presented by cadets from the Civil Air Patrol in St. Peter's, Missouri, a group sponsored by VVA Chapter 458. A troupe of young people, The Futures of America, sang four patriotic tunes, and then helped a local Boy Scouts and the Civil Air Patrol distribute American flags to everyone in the room. Then the troupe led the assembled for a rendition of "God Bless the U.S.A."

Another highlight of the opening ceremonies: the tremendous roar of appreciation given by the delegates and guests to seven active-duty U.S. Air Force veterans of the Iraq War, who attended as honored guests. The St. Louis Fire Department honored the Convention that morning by displaying a huge American flag from two hook and ladder trucks in front of the hotel. In addition to Lt. Gov. Maxwell and Bucha, the other Opening Ceremonies speakers were VVA Poet Laureate Steve Mason, AVVA President Nancy Switzer, Ann Sherman Wolcott, the president of American Gold Star Mothers, Tony Cordero of Sons and Daughters in Touch, and Steven Robinson of the National Gulf War Resource Center.

President Tom Corey presented the annual VVA awards during the Convention. This year the awards went to Chapter 142, Monroe, Michigan, Chapter of the year;Eric Marshall, VVA Member of the Year from Chapter 777 in Richmond, Indiana; Charles Hughes, Incarcerated Member of the Year from Chapter 726, Polk City, Florida; Matt Davison, AVVA Member of the Year; "Between the Lines," the newsletter of Chapter 20, Rochester, New York, Chapter Newsletter of the Year; and The Texas Vietnam Veteran News, State Council Newspaper of the Year.

The recipients of the Excellence in the Arts Awards were America On Line Chairman Emeritus James V. Kimsey, a two-tour Vietnam veteran who was cited for his outstanding contribution to American culture through his charitable Kimsey Foundation, and Troy Evans, the former 25th Infantry Division foot soldier, who is one of the busiest character actors in Hollywood, with recurring roles on China Beach and ER.

The President's Award, given to non-Vietnam veterans for their work in the arts, went to Lee Teter, the nationally renowned artist who created "Reflections," the best-known and most popular painting of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Teter donated the exclusive use of the image to VVA Chapter 172. The other President's Award recipient was filmmaker Tracy Tragos, who was honored for her exceptional documentary Be Good, Smile Pretty.

Tragos signed posters from the film during a Saturday afternoon autographing session. Also on hand signing photographs was Troy Evans, who earlier had entertained a group of about 50 members in an informal "Conversation" with VVA Veteran Arts Editor Marc Leepson. Lee Teter gave out pre-autographed cards, and Charlene Edwards, the author of Voices from Vietnam, signed copies of her book.

The Saturday Night Awards Banquet, attended by some 750 guests, featured entertainment by the energetic USO troupe New Vision and a slide show tribute to VVA's first 25 years. Post-dinner entertainment was provided by Legends of Yesterday, a band that pays tribute to the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, and the Beatles.

   

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