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September/October Issue

red star bulletThe Veteran Departments : Featured Stories / Letters / President's Message / VVAF Report / Government Relations / Ask The Parliamentarian / Veterans Benefits Update / Membership Affairs Committee Report / Legislators View / ETABO Committee Report / PTSD Substance Abuse Comittee Report / TAPS / Region 7 Report / AVVA Report / SHAD/Project 112 Task Force Report / Veterans Against Drugs Task Force Report / VetsConnect Report / Homeless Veterans Task Force Report / Women Veterans Committee Report / Arts of War / Book Review / Membership Notes / Chapter of The Year / Locator / Reunions

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FEature article

By Marc Leepson

It’s not every day that the governor of a state officially proclaims Vietnam Veterans of America Week. But that’s what happened in July when Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano declared the week of July 10-16 VVA Week in honor of our 28 years of service to the nation’s Vietnam-era veterans and the fact that VVA held its biennial National Leadership Conference in the Oro Valley section of Tucson July 12-15.

The director of the Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services, Patrick F. Chorpenning, presented the official proclamation to VVA National President John Rowan at the Leadership Conference’s solemn yet celebratory opening ceremonies on Wednesday morning, July 12, at the Hilton El Conquistador Hotel. Chorpenning, a disabled Vietnam veteran who served with the 1st Marine Division, represented the governor at the ceremonies, which also featured welcoming remarks from Tucson’s Vice Mayor Steve Leal, a VVA member; Paul Loomis, the mayor of Oro Valley; and VVA Arizona State Council President Bill Messer.

County music singer/songwriter Paulette Carlson opened the ceremonies with rousing renditions of two songs from her current CD, including “Thank You Vets,” which she wrote in tribute to her brother Gary, who served in the Vietnam War and who died in 2005 of Agent Orange-related liver cancer, and other Vietnam veterans she has known. The founder and lead singer of the acclaimed country music band Highway 101 also performed a stirring a capella rendition of the National Anthem following the posting of the colors by Arizona Chapters 106 from Tucson, 432 of Phoenix, and 835 from Yuma, along with Phoenix Post 48 of the Scottish American Military Society, which presented the POW/MIA flag.

After greetings from VVA President John Rowan and AVVA President Mary Miller, Medal of Honor recipient Paul “Buddy” Bucha electrified the crowd with a passionate call-to-action. Bucha, a former 101st Airborne Division company commander who also gave the Keynote at the 2003 National Convention in St. Louis, brought cheers from the crowd as he called on VVA leaders to go back to their communities across the nation and “rekindle the flame of Vietnam veterans’ activism” in “the name of those who died in Vietnam.”

Vietnam veterans “are the conscience of this country,” Bucha said. “We can change the world. We are in a position of leadership and we have the confidence to say, ‘Follow Me.’” Bucha exhorted VVA members to live up to VVA’s founding principle, “Never again will one generation of Americans abandon another.”

The opening ceremonies over, conference attendees proceeded to take in three and a half days of seminars that dealt with a wide range of issues of importance to VVA leaders, as well as several special events. The weather was hot outside—the high temperatures ranged from 105 to 110. But inside the air-conditioned hotel, VVA members took in seminars with topics that included helping homeless veterans; duties of presidents of VVA Chapters, State Councils and Boards of Directors; working with the media; a Chapter newsletter and State Council newspaper workshop; PTSD workshops; membership strategies; legislative advocacy; minority and women veterans’ issues; funding State Council Veterans Service programs; and a presentation by three veterans of the former Soviet Union military who served as advisers to the North Vietnamese and who are cooperating with VVA to account for Americans listed as missing in action in Vietnam.

The special events included a State Council Presidents’ Luncheon on Wednesday featuring remarks by former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel, a 2008 presidential hopeful. In the evening, a Caribbean-themed (Hawaiian shirts suggested) poolside party was hosted by the Arizona State Council. On Thursday afternoon, many conference attendees took in special showings of The War Tapes, an award-winning documentary film that looks at the Iraq War through the eyes of American fightingmen on the ground, and Commitment & Sacrifice, which follows the experiences of troops from B Company, 5th of the 7th Cavalry, during both the Vietnam War and Iraq War. Norman Lloyd, a former CBS cameraman who produced the film, was on hand to answer questions at the screening, as was War Tapes executive producer Chuck Lacy.

The Friday Awards Luncheon included VVA’s first Minority Affairs Committee Diversity Award, which went to retired Army Gen. Ezell Ware for his commitment to VVA and to the minority affairs community, and the VVA Community Service Award, presented to U-Haul International for its longstanding charitable work on behalf of the nation’s veterans. The VVA awards followed.

The honorees were: Member of the Year: John Miterko, Chapter 915, Austin, Texas; Chapter of the Year: Chapter 154, Macomb County, Michigan; AVVA Member of the Year: Diane Kuhn; Incarcerated Member of the Year: Thelbert M. Lawson, Jr., Chapter 745, Monroe, Washington; Chapter Newsletter of the Year: Between the Lines, Chapter 20, Rochester, New York; State Council Newspaper of the Year: Interchange, New York State Council.

The Awards Luncheon Keynote Speaker, Al Giordano, the National Service Director and acting Chief Operating Officer for the Wounded Warrior Project, gave an inspired talk that gave credit to Vietnam veterans in general and VVA in particular for its commitment to helping the nation’s newest generation of war veterans. Garry Trudeau, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning cartoonist and creator of Doonesbury, received the 2006 President’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.
“It’s particularly humbling to receive an award for storytelling in a room so filled with magnificent stories,” Trudeau said in his acceptance speech. “My stories aren’t real; yours are. My stories were written in tribute to yours, but they will never have the meaning and power of the memories that you have carried through your lives, sometimes willingly and with pride and sometimes with the greatest of difficulty.”

After the Luncheon, Trudeau spent more than two hours shaking hands with VVA and AVVA members, posing for pictures, and autographing copies of The Long Road Home, his latest book on the post-Iraq War life and times of his Vietnam veteran character, B.D. VVA President John Rowan awarded B.D. a life membership in the organization.

Trudeau and many conferees attended the Friday evening chuck wagon cookout, complete with a live band, at the hotel’s Last Territory Restaurant. On Thursday afternoon, two busloads of VVA and AVVA members took a trip to Esperanza en Escalante, a Tucson transitional housing program supported by VVA’s Vietnam Veterans Assistance Fund. The event included a Mexican fiesta and Mariachi band.
The Leadership Conference concluded on Saturday afternoon with the low-key closing ceremonies. It featured a presentation of VVA’s soon-to-debut new web site by Public Affairs Committee Chair Keith King and Carol Engle, who heads VVA’s IT operations, and official greetings and promises of future cooperation by the visiting Ukrainian veterans.

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