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Who can forget the scene in Francis Ford Copolla’s Apocalypse Now when the insane Col. Kilgore dressed down a young trooper who questions Kilgore’s order to Lance “the Surfer” Johnson and other First Cav soldier/surfers to hit the waves in a VC-infested area.

“It’s pretty hairy in there,” the trooper says. “It’s Charlie’s point.”
To which Kilgore shouts: “Charlie don’t surf!”

Lance and Kilgore are fictional, and the enemy certainly didn’t ride the wild surf in the South China Sea. But a few intrepid American servicemen actually did surf off of South Vietnam in the war zone.

That included young Navy Corpsman J. Craig Venter, who was stationed at the Danang Navy Hospital in 1967-68, and who today is one of the world’s top scientists. Venter achieved worldwide fame in 2001 when he led a team that completed the publication of the sequencing of the human genome—one of the biggest scientific breakthroughs in modern history.

Craig Venter was named to Time magazine’s 2007 list of the top “men and women whose power, talent or moral example is transforming the world.” One observer called him “arguably the most famous living scientist, taking over the role once occupied by Albert Einstein.” Venter will receive VVA’s Excellence in the Sciences Award at the National Leadership Conference.

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On May 22, Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Gordon Mansfield, Connecticut Commissioner of Public Works Raeanne Curtis, and hundreds of others joined Connecticut Commissioner of Veterans’ Affairs Linda Schwartz to dedicate the new Sgt. John L. Levitow, USAF, Veterans Health Center.

Our Linda Schwartz. Linda Schwartz, who served on the VVA National Board of Directors, chaired national committees, and was the first woman to receive the VVA Commendation Medal for Justice, Integrity, and Meaningful Achievement.

“This is the change that I wanted to see at Rocky Hill for many years,” Schwartz said. “I remember first reading about the appalling conditions at the Connecticut Veterans Home. In fact, I first read about them in The VVA Veteran.”

Connecticut is the home of the nation’s first state veterans’ home. In 1863, Benjamin Fitch, honoring his promise to soldiers recruited for Union regiments, established the Fitch Home for Veterans, which offered shelter and support to veterans, their widows, and their orphans. But by the 1930s, the strain on the Fitch facility finally caused Gov. Wilbur Cross to start a land search which resulted in the establishment of a new Soldiers’ Home in Rocky Hill.

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It breaks out this way: Some of us see the war in Iraq as a conflict America had no choice but to enter, one that’s going well or at least decently. Others say the nation had to get into Iraq, but the current administration bungled it. The third view is the war was a mistake from the get-go. Vietnam veterans don’t fault the courage and capability of the troops, whichever outlook they have. Nor do Iraq veterans.

What’s striking is how these outlooks parallel the views Vietnam veterans had about our own war while it was on and for at least a decade afterward. The same three-way split shaped the founding years of Vietnam Veterans of America. VVA’s commitment that no generation of veterans would again abandon another began with our mutual pledge that we, as Vietnam veterans, would not break with one another over differences in how we saw the war. You could hear it voiced as, “Well, you’re full of crap, but you’ve got a right to your opinion. You fought there.”

So it is no surprise that veterans of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan have the same range of opinions about their war. They have each other’s backs, no matter what they think of the larger issues. Still, they split the way we did.

To see how these viewpoints play out among the next generation of veterans, I went in mid-March to attend Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan, a major project of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), held just outside Washington, D.C., in Silver Spring, Maryland. For anyone who had attended the original Winter Soldier Investigation in 1971—and there were well over a dozen old Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) hands present in Silver Spring—it was déjà vu. The parallels were striking: scores of angry young combat veterans denouncing the war they recently fought as a disaster kindled by inadequate vision, with American troops wasted while being pushed to commit acts that scarred them as much as the outer war had

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The question I am asked most is: “Hey Wes, where’s a good place to eat?” That’s easy to answer. Just outside the Hyatt Regency’s back door is a smorgasbord of restaurants known as Main Street. No less than seventy restaurants and bars are within walking distance of the hotel. The restaurants’ styles and prices run the gamut, from plain to fancy, cheap to cher. I offer the following suggestions from locations I have given a taste drive.

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