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september/october 2007

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Ron Pasko says of The Vietnam Veterans Memorial: “It’s like a black magnet.” Like so many others, the vice president of VVA Chapter 209 in Chicago cannot explain its power. He just knows he feels it. The Wall draws him in.

“It has the same effect on the guys in our organization, and it has the same effect on me,” he said. “I have no idea what it is, but I always want to go there.”

On Saturday, November 10, VVA will sponsor a huge parade on the National Mall marking the 25th anniversary of the dedication of The Wall. The event is expected to bring hundreds of thousands of Vietnam veterans, their families, and supporters to Washington in what is expected to be a seminal event in the history of the Vietnam veterans movement. [read complete article ]

The city of Springfield, Illinois, rolled out the red carpet figuratively and literally for VVA members and their guests at the 13th biennial National Convention July 18-22. “I don’t believe we’ve had a friendlier, warmer reception anywhere,” said VVA President John Rowan. “The entire downtown opened their arms up for us. It was a real kick to see ‘Welcome VVA’ signs in just about every business establishment, ‘Welcome to Springfield VVA’ buttons everywhere, and just plain friendliness from just about everyone you met. The city even renamed the street in front of the hotel ‘Vietnam Vets Avenue’ for the week we were in town. Not to mention the actual red carpet they rolled out for us as we entered the Convention Center for the Awards Banquet Saturday night.” [read complete article]

In the 1960s, Ernie Rivers taught Navy flight students at the Pensacola Naval Air Station how to live off the land if their plane was downed. He was the officer in charge of the survival unit, overseeing 30 to 35 instructors, who taught more than 100 men a week how to survive with only a compass, map, and a hunting knife. Every week groups of students would camp for three days, using different sites on Eglin Air Force Base Reservation in Florida.

When the winds and clouds were right, Rivers and his men would watch planes pass overhead, clouds of spray coming from them. Several times he and his men were sprayed. “I’d say, ‘At least we don’t have to use bug repellant,’” he noted, laughing, during an interview. That was a big plus, they thought, for them as well as Army Rangers who were also training out in the bayous of the Florida panhandle, where mosquitoes and other bugs could make life miserable.

[read complete article]

Two 20-year-old guys from The Bronx, Bill Nelson and John Ward, enlisted in the U.S. Army in February of 1969 on the buddy system. Why? “We had a friend, a Marine, who was killed in Vietnam, and we thought that in a time of war—as crazy as it sounds—we should answer the call,” Nelson explained in a recent interview. “John came to me and it was his idea, and I said, ‘You’re right,’ and so we enlisted. In hindsight, you could say it was crazy to do it, but that’s what we did. We were thinking that we probably would go to Vietnam.”

Nelson and Ward took the enlistment oath at the AFEES Station on Whitehall Street in New York City, then got on a train to Columbia, South Carolina, where the buddies went through Basic Training together at Fort Jackson. Both men went 11B40, light weapons infantry, and took Infantry AIT together at Jackson. After they completed AIT, in June of 1969, the buddies received the orders they fully expected: to go to Vietnam together. [read complete article]

Retirement didn’t sit well with Kevin Draper. He already had gotten more than a taste of enforced inactivity in his long fight with esophageal cancer, an ailment he traces back to his Navy days working with Agent Orange and asbestos off the Vietnamese coast. When he finally was forced to sell his Waco turbocharger business, Draper found himself at home only a day or so before he knew doing nothing all day just wasn’t going to work. Life was too slow. When he was finally able to hold a wrench in his hand again, the antidote to life in the slow lane seemed obvious. Speed.
[read complete article]



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