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

Jackpot!
VVA's Twelfth Biennial Convention
 

BY MARC LEEPSON

Any way you look at it, VVA’s 12th biennial National Convention, which was held Aug. 10-13 at the Silver Legacy Hotel and Casino in Reno, Nevada, was a huge success. A record number of Convention delegates, 736 from across the nation, rolled up their collective sleeves and spent three and a half days debating and enacting a series of resolutions that will guide the organization through the next two years. On Friday, the delegates cast their votes for VVA’s four national officers and nineteen members of the Board of Directors. More than a thousand delegates and guests—including some 125 AVVA members taking part in the organization’s National Leadership Conference—took in the stirring opening ceremonies that kicked off the Convention and the moving (and rocking) Saturday Night Awards Banquet, which ended the event.

“We did ourselves proud in Reno,” said outgoing VVA President Tom Corey, who stepped down after two terms. “The delegates showed a seriousness of purpose that we have come to expect at VVA Conventions. The election campaigns were hard fought. And after the votes were counted, we came together in support of our new national leaders who will guide us through another two years. I look forward to working with them.”


John Rowan of Middle Village, New York, the New York State Council president who had served as the chair of VVA’s Conference of State Council Presidents and three terms on the Board of Directors, was elected VVA’s sixth national president, defeating former VVA Vice President Ed Chow. Jack Devine of Dimondale, Michigan, a former VVA Board member who chairs VVA’s Project 112/SHAD Task Force, was chosen as national Vice President. Barry Hagge of Boyertown, Pennsylvania, the long-time chair of VVA’s Constitution Committee, was elected national Secretary, and Alan Cook of Castro Valley, California, won re-election as national Treasurer.

“It’s a great honor to serve as VVA’s national President,” Rowan said. “We have a great team in place to run this great veterans’ service organization for the next two years. I am looking forward to working with VVA members all across the nation on every level to support Vietnam veterans and their families In Service to America.”


The Convention got off to an exuberant start at 9:00 on Wednesday morning with the Opening Ceremonies, which began with rousing renditions of the Vietnam-War-era songs “Run Through the Jungle” and “Fortunate Son” by an uncannily realistic John Fogerty (of Creedence Clearwater Revival) impersonator as black and white war-time images were displayed on four huge video screens. The ceremonies also included moving tributes to former VVA National President George Duggins (who died just a week before the Convention) and other VVA members lost in the previous year, as well as warm welcomes from Nevada State Council President Virgie Hibbler, Jr., Reno Mayor Robert Cashell, and AVVA President Mary Miller.

Most of those on hand agreed that the highlight of the morning was the powerful Keynote Speech delivered by VVA member Allen Hoe, a former Americal Division medic from Honololu who today is one of Hawaii’s most prominent attorneys—and whose son, U.S. Army Lt. Nainoa Hoe, was killed in action in Iraq in January.

“I have stopped trying to understand why the events in my life have come to me in the manner they have and at the times they had,” Hoe said. “Sayings like ‘there but for the grace of God’ have true meaning in my world. I learned many lessons on the battlefields of Hiep Duc and Que Son Valley—when all is lost, you need to remember: someone else has it twice as bad as you.”

The delegates put in long hours on the Convention floor on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday and during evening caucuses with the officer and board candidates. On Thursday, the delegates heard from Deputy Secretary Gordon Mansfield, the No. 2 person in the VA. On Friday, the delegates honored Tabeatha Allen, a security guard at the hotel who all week had been thanking VVA members for their service. When members learned that Allen was a twice-wounded veteran of the war in Iraq, she was prevailed upon to come onto the Convention floor and be introduced. What followed was a thunderous ovation, as Convention delegates showed their allegiance to VVA’s founding principle: “Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.”


With the work of the Convention complete by noon on Saturday, nearly everyone joined in the autographing and book-signing event featuring Raquel Welch, who signed photos for more than two and a half hours. Also taking part was John Hulme, who directed the acclaimed HBO documentary, Unknown Soldier: Searching for a Father, the story of his quest to learn about his father, U.S. Marine Lt. Jack Hulme, who in 1969 was killed in action in Vietnam when John Hulme was three weeks old.

Raquel Welch, who made a Bob Hope tour trip to Vietnam in 1967, and John Hulme received the VVA President’s Award for Excellence in the Arts at the Saturday night Awards Banquet, which was emceed by VVA member Troy Evans, the veteran Hollywood character actor best known for his recurring roles on China Beach and ER. Evans, in fact, reprised one of his China Beach bits, “Sarge’s Rules for How to Stay Alive in Vietnam” on stage. That included the old chestnut: “When you’ve secured an area, don’t forget to tell the enemy. They may have other plans.”

Also receiving an Excellence in the Arts Award: Wayne Karlin, the author of—among many other acclaimed works—the novel Lost Armies and the memoir Rumors and Stones. Karlin, a former Marine helicopter doorgunner, is one of the finest, most accomplished, and most honored writers to come out of the Vietnam War.

The Awards Banquet concluded with a tribute to retiring VVA President Tom Corey, who said that while he was stepping down as President, he would continue to be an active veterans’ advocate and work with VVA for years to come.

   

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