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I just finished reading an article in which Army Chaplain John L. Kallerson spoke out about the conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He could not have said it better: The care at Walter Reed couldn’t be better.

As VVA State Council President from Minnesota, I have joined other State Council Presidents during the last three Board of Directors meetings in Silver Spring and have gone to Walter Reed and the Mologne House, where the warriors and their families stay while the warriors rehabilitate. We tell them we are Vietnam veterans and want to welcome them home and thank them for their service to our country.

We ask how they are being taken care of, and they all tell us that they get great care. Not one has told us they get anything less.

One other thing that makes you feel good is that the warriors at Walter Reed tell us: “If it wasn’t for you Vietnam veterans, we wouldn’t get the recognition we get today. Thank you all for serving our country and welcome home.”

Maynard G. Kaderlik
Montgomery, Minnesota

It was quite a day for me today. It was exactly 40 years ago tonight, July 17, 1967, that I debuted “Alice’s Restaurant” at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island. My life was forever changed. If there was any good way to celebrate that event, today was it. Thanks so much for bringing that all back home to me by allowing me to play it once again for the guys. I have many photographs from those days—little signs on tents in the middle of nowhere Vietnam—on which are written references to the song.

It was sometime during the very early ’80s that my family and I took in a family of 15 Vietnamese refugees. They stayed with us for a little over a year before they got their lives together enough to move out on their own. We are still very close. The old man was a translator at the U.S. Embassy. The oldest son was a Special Forces instructor. The younger sons were rounded up and spent some time being “re-educated” before they escaped. It took most of the year to get the family together as they were scattered all over the world. This was quite an education for me, as you can imagine.

So here we are 40 years later. And I’m hanging around Springfield, Illinois, and you guys are in the same hotel. Frankly, I was almost in tears, as it was an unexpected chance to hang out for a little while with the best guys and gals of my generation, and in some small way to say thanks for getting through the last 40 years with a sense of humor, commitment, and spirit that we’re all going to need to share with our younger folks getting back from Iraq and other places around this troubled world.

I will never forget this little gig today.

Arlo Guthrie
Editor’s Note: VVA President John Rowan received this email from Arlo Guthrie the day after the singer-songwriter gave an unexpected two-song mini concert for VVA members and friends in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel on Tuesday, July 17, the day before the start of the VVA National Convention.

I was pleased and not at all surprised to open my September/October issue of The VVA Veteran to find that Arlo Guthrie had made an impromptu and gratis appearance at the Convention. For years he has supported and run the nonprofit Guthrie Center in Great Barrington, Mass., providing a range of free services to families and individuals. He recently held a concert to raise money for a local family whose young son was diagnosed with cancer. Each year the Guthrie Center holds a walk to raise money for Huntington’s disease, and the list goes on.

My predecessor as Chief of Police here in the Town of Stockbridge, William J. (“Officer Opie”) Obanhein, a World War II veteran, developed a lasting friendship with Arlo after working with him on the movie Alice’s Restaurant. Somewhat ironically, I was on my first of two tours in Vietnam in 1969 as the movie was being filmed.

I guard my copies of The VVA Veteran rather closely, so thanks for sending an extra copy which I will give to Arlo when I see him in a couple of weeks at a meeting for the next fund-raising event we will be involved in together.

Richard B. Wilcox
Stockbridge, Massachusetts

Marc Leepson’s review of Bill Hendon’s book An Enormous Crime made me wonder if he actually read the book. He discounts Hendon’s work as that of a “true believer” in conspiracy theories, and thereby classifies Hendon as just another nut. Even the book review headline downplays Hendon’s book by calling it a “definitive” work (your magazine’s quotes, not mine.)

The review struck me as an incongruous inclusion in your magazine. One of your main articles in the same issue was about the Air Force finally admitting to extensive Agent Orange spraying at Eglin Air Force Base in the 1960s, assisted by Dow Chemical scientists. If your magazine can report about the 40-year cover-up of AO spraying on American soil, how do you reconcile this with your book reviewer’s dismissal of Hendon’s numerous cited incidents of active coordinated efforts to discount live-sighting reports from Southeast Asian civilians, who asked nothing in return?

As a mine-sweep sailor, I was directly sprayed by AO. Now, many years later, my hands and feet remain numb, DoD and the VA will not admit my AO exposure simply because I was a sailor, Dow Chemical runs its ludicrous “Human Element” advertisements, and The VVA Veteran publishes an irresponsible review that sneers at the idea of a long-term cover-up.

Mike Smith
Via E-mail

Marc Leepson replies: “I did read the book and I gave my honest opinion. I had no axe to grind. I did not say Hendon was a nut. There was no sneering. I read what Hendon wrote, weighed his evidence, and came to my own conclusions. The word ‘definitive’ in the headline came from Hendon’s subtitle, which is why it was put in quotes.”

The phenomenon of minor wounds being awarded the Purple Heart in Vietnam was pretty common. One example: a signal officer bumping his head while entering a division HQ bunker during a rocket attack.

When I was an infantry rifle company commander in Vietnam, it was understood that the first wound would warrant a Purple Heart. Subsequent wounds needed to be at the level of Medevac, serious field treatment, or death to merit the award.
Why? Because in active combat, just about everyone got wounded. Out of a company field strength of 125, over 90 of us had been wounded. Many troopers would simply mutter the soldier’s prayer when hit and drive on. First-timers would come forward with a shrapnel scratch and we, amid good-natured laughter, would have him squeeze it to make it bleed in order to be put in for an award.

I have three Purple Hearts, but if I had used the John Kerry standard, I would have many more. I also have an 80 percent VA disability rating to go along with the medals, so the wounds were more than scratches.

I agree that wounds are wounds and are deserving of recognition via the Purple Heart. However, be aware that many were awarded for “questionable” wounds. Some took advantage of this, but the vast majority of Purple Heart awardees have the scars to prove it and deserve the recognition.

Mitch Kotula
Corvallis, Montana

Thanks for printing the exchange of letters between Gary Feikert and Dan Stenvold. Like Dan, I had a few scratches, plus a dime-sized ding that didn’t seem at all worthy of a Purple Heart, given the extreme wounds others sustained around me.

Also, I had no idea that anybody could put themselves in for a Purple Heart until that issue cropped up in the context of a campaign for public office. No one I knew was thinking of getting medals to document a future resume.

I agree with Gary that the VVA must remain totally nonpartisan in order to succeed.

Jim Anders
Via E-mail

I enjoyed the comment in “Books in Review” in the September-October issue about stereotypes of veterans as “undereducated.” I was drafted out of law school. After the war, I got my M.S. from Georgetown and a J.D. from Yale.

Because of conscription, the Vietnam War had a lot of contrasts—from high school dropouts to my pal Milt, a doctoral candidate at Johns Hopkins.

Michael Dougherty
Drums, Pennsylvania

During the past year, while presenting Roland Castanie’s print, “On Behalf of a Grateful Nation,” to the families of the present wars’ servicemen and women killed in the line of duty, my Chapter 685 members, associates, and I have witnessed a kaleidoscope of emotions. To name a few: horror, sadness, loss, desperation, resignation, appreciation, and anger. Just this last week we witnessed a mother screaming over and over: “He was just a baby; he was just a baby.” The true nature of peoples’ feelings is revealed in their eyes. While the sacrifice of their loved ones took place in a moment, hour, day, or week, the sacrifice of the families will be for years.

As we present the print, I acknowledge the sacrifices their loved ones made for our freedom and their sacrifices as well, and ask them to accept the print as a down payment on the debt that we owe them. I also tell them that we will put the rest of the debt on lay-a-way and pay on it forever by never letting their sacrifices and those of their loved ones be forgotten. It is a small price to pay on such a huge debt.
In the future, during meetings and ceremonies, when you are given the chance for a moment of silence for the troops, please make room for their families as well. God bless our troops, the families, and America. Welcome home.

Jim Rose
Via E-mail

As a Life Member of VVA, I was glad to see that our organization’s choice for its President’s Award for Excellence in the Arts was Lee Greenwood. He is truly deserving of the award. Throughout his career, through his music and his actions, he has shown his concern for America’s veterans.

I also belong to the Veterans Caucus of the American Academy of Physician Assistants. Greenwood’s song “God Bless the U.S.A.” is played during our annual Memorial Day service. It has become our group’s theme song. At the end of the service, hundreds of veterans and active-duty personnel clasp hands and sing.

Greenwood has been a long-time supporter of our organization. He has signed and donated articles that have been auctioned during our scholarship fund-raising events. I congratulate him and thank him for all he has done. And thanks to VVA for choosing Lee Greenwood for this prestigious award.

Tim Egan
Via E-mail

The Military Order of the Purple Heart has requested that the Postmaster General re-issue the Purple Heart stamp and give it “forever status.” Every veterans’ organization should encourage this. Veterans should contact their state and federal representatives and ask them for their support.

During my tour in Vietnam (1967-68) with the Army’s 5th Battalion/7th Cavalry, I witnessed recipients of the Purple Heart and one was awarded to me on January 3, 1968.

Wayne R. Gibbs
Ellisburg, New York


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