The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress
May/June 2005
FEATURE
 
 

L.Z. Motown:
Chapter Nine's Quarter Century
 

BY R. MICHAEL SAND AND KEITH KING

Chapter Nine, a front-runner in the fight for veterans’ rights, has been fulfilling the mission of Vietnam Veterans of America for over twenty-five years. L.Z. Motown’s roots go back to the mid and late ’70s at Wayne State University where Detroit-area Vietnam veterans had enrolled in classes under the G.I. Bill. The veterans were being ostracized by segments of American society and were experiencing readjustment problems.

Groups called the “Bamboo Rap” and “Flight of the Phoenix” came together to offer support and opportunities for veterans dealing with the aftermath of their war experience. Vietnam veterans weren’t being accepted by the old-line veterans’ organizations; the VA system and its hospitals were terribly run down. PTSD, Agent Orange, unemployment, and other issues were not being addressed. Most Vietnam veterans just wanted to get on with their lives and leave the war behind.

The Michigan Veterans Trust Fund recognized those who served by creating a database of the state’s Vietnam veterans. Eligible veterans received a $600 bonus from the state, along with a bumper sticker that read “Vietnam Vet and Proud of It.”

In 1979, eight Detroit-area veterans from the Wayne State group came together to form Vietnam Veterans of Michigan (VVM). They met at various locations to conduct business and recruit members. They tracked down cars with “Vietnam Vet” bumper stickers and handed the drivers applications. As the membership grew, the organization needed a home of its own.

At around the same time, Bobby Muller was forming Vietnam Veterans of America. When Muller heard about VVM, he invited the group to merge with VVA. After many debates and joint VVM/VVA meetings, they finally did. In late 1980, membership documents were signed for VVA Detroit Chapter Nine.


Meanwhile, the drive for a building got a boost from a series of fund-raising events. Chapter-designed hats, tee-shirts, pins, and other merchandise kept the money flowing. One of the larger fund-raising events was held at Harpo’s Music Hall on the east side of Detroit. Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels were the headliners. The money raised went to the purchase of Greenfield’s Restaurant at Woodward and Temple in the heart of the city. Although the abandoned building had no heat, water, or power, it became the chapter’s home.

The renovation of Greenfield’s was completed in the early 1980s. Members went to the streets of the city’s infamous Cass Corridor and took a “bite out of crime” by using 2x4’s and baseball bats to chase pimps, prostitutes, car thieves, and drug dealers out of the neighborhood. Bob Pisor, a Vietnam-era veteran and the anchor for WDIV Channel 4, produced a feature about Chapter Nine’s war on crime in the city. With the help of the mayor’s office, the Detroit Police Department, the Greater Detroit Building Trades Council, the local Navy Seabee reservists, the UAW, and the membership, the job was done. L.Z. Motown opened its doors and became a viable veterans service center in the heart of the city.

In order to keep the doors open and their programs running, chapter members were always fund-raising. One of the early members designed, patented, and turned over the rights to produce a license plate with a Huey helicopter emblazoned over the Vietnam Service Medal. As more veterans came forward to show their pride in their military service and their support for fellow Vietnam veterans, sales soared. Soon, new varieties of VVA Chapter Nine hats, shirts, and other items went on sale. When Chapter Nine members helped create the VVA Michigan State Council, they supplied much of the Vietnam veteran merchandise to new chapters throughout the state.

Many other activities were used to generate funds—raffles, dinners, dances, “millionaire” parties, rummage sales, car washes, and auctions, to name a few. The building was expensive to maintain, and competition from other chapters made fund-raising more difficult. Chapter Nine was located in the inner city, and everyone in the area was poor. In fact, many chapter members were homeless. Through it all, the chapter remained vibrant.


Chapter Nine set up its education program in conjunction with local schools and universities. Its speakers’ bureau put together symposia and classroom discussions at town halls, community centers, and classrooms all over the metropolitan area. Veterans brought their stories to audiences in places such as the Grosse Pointe War Memorial, Detroit Athletic Club, and the University of Michigan. Through history and English classes at Wayne State University, students learned about the Vietnam experience via talks, writings, and poetry presented by Chapter Nine members. University Liggett School, a private preparatory school in Grosse Pointe, sponsored a day-long program that brought high school students and veterans together to develop a better understanding of the war in Vietnam and its effect on American society.

By 1985, Chapter Nine had nearly a thousand members, including General William Westmoreland, Mayor Coleman Young, Oliver North, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, and Country Joe MacDonald. During a period of financial uncertainty, the chapter lent the national organization $5,000. Detroit hosted VVA’s Second National Convention in 1985. Thousands of VVA members came together in Detroit, and L.Z. Motown contributed substantially to cover expenses.

Most of the VVA chapters in Southeastern Michigan were formed by members of Chapter Nine. L.Z. Motown became known as the “Mother Chapter” as more and more chapters were created by spin-offs from Chapter Nine. Turf wars ensued, but eventually agreements were reached and things settled down. Many activities became joint ventures in which all participated.

Under the motto “In Service to America,” Chapter Nine spearheaded countless community-based programs throughout the Detroit area. Chapter members, their friends, and families showed up with brooms and shovels to clean the block of trash and debris. The building hosted counseling sessions to help homeless veterans find jobs and reintegrate into society. Eventually, the Michigan Veterans Foundation was established. Chapter Nine influenced the decision to open the new VA hospital in the city rather than rehabilitate the outdated Allen Park facility. During the construction of the hospital, the chapter donated office space to the VA so they could provide much-needed services to local veterans.


In the 1990s, holding true to the VVA motto that “never again will one generation of veterans abandon another,” Chapter Nine began organizing rallies to support troops from the first Gulf War, beginning with a parade down Woodward Avenue. One rally was videotaped by WJBK-TV and sent to the crew of the USS Ranger in the Persian Gulf. As local troops came home from the war, they were given grand receptions at chapter functions. Some joined as VVA associate members.

A bill was passed to build a state Vietnam Veterans Memorial Monument in Lansing. Most of the commissioners appointed to fulfill the task of reaching this goal came from—or later joined—the ranks of Chapter Nine. The Michigan Monument is located in the heart of the state capital, near the Hall of Justice, the Michigan Historical Library, and the Capitol itself. The memorial recognizes the 2,654 Michigan Vietnam servicemen and one woman who paid the ultimate price.

Chapter Nine played an important role in the establishment of the Canadian Vietnam Veterans Memorial, as well. The North Wall, as it is affectionately called, sits proudly at the foot of the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ontario. Organizers used L.Z. Motown as a base of operations to run most of its fund-raisers and rallies. The annual “Run to the North Wall” motorcycle rally began at Chapter Nine a year after the dedication, and it continues today. A plaque at the base of the memorial recognizes the chapter’s contributions.

The membership recently decided to downsize its headquarters and meet at a smaller facility. The price of utilities and upkeep was prohibitive. However, the chapter’s commitment remains to the city of Detroit and also reaches beyond its boundaries. As the conflict in Iraq continues, our troops will not be forgotten or mistreated as long as one Chapter Nine member is standing. As Vietnam veterans enter their golden years, Chapter Nine veterans and associates, their families, and friends can rest assured that the job of serving America has been done well. The chapter has laid a solid foundation that will stand for years to come.

Mike Sand is on the Chapter Nine Board of Directors; Keith King is the chapter secretary.

   

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