A publication of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

October 2000/November 2000

Brookings, Oregon, Chapter 757: In Service To America

By Jim Doyle

In his cover letter nominating VVA's Brookings, Oregon, Chapter 757 for Chapter of the Year, Region 8 Director Rocky Gothard said, "This chapter has been the Chapter of the Year for Oregon the last three years. They all work together and have become a vital part of their community. This chapter lives by our motto, ‘In Service To America.' ''

Included in the binder submitted as part of the nomination are dozens of news clippings from the local newspaper, the Curry Coastal Pilot. The first article that mentioned the chapter prominently was published in February 1996 when the chapter received its charter. The article reports how the mayor of Brookings recognized the event with a proclamation. The chartering ceremony was attended by county commissioners, law-enforcement personnel, veterans, and their families. Some of those same county commissioners and law-enforcement personnel were also members of the chapter.

Less than a month after the announcement of the chapter formation, the local paper ran a banner story headlined: "Brookings Vets Take Over Fireworks Show.'' This article described how Chapter 757 would be in charge of lighting the sky at the annual Fourth of July fireworks celebration. The chapter would work closely with the Chamber of Commerce and other groups to insure the 15-year tradition continued.

"The Elks Lodge didn't have the money or personnel to do the fireworks display,'' said chapter president Jerry Hartzell. "We felt this was an important event so we just jumped in.''

On June 18, 1996, the Curry Coastal Pilot reported that the fund was $3,000 short of its goal. Without the additional money, the fireworks display would have to be scaled back or canceled.

"We have until Saturday to tell the distributor how many fireworks we want, or if we don't get the needed $3,000, cancel it completely,'' said then chapter president Bill Lopez. "We can wait until 3:00 p.m. on Saturday to tell them what we need, but right now we need $3,000.''

Three days later the newspaper reported: "Viet Vets Make Fireworks Goal.''

"We're really proud of the community for digging deeper,'' then chapter vice president Mark Brown said. "We still have people who are pledging money.''

When all was said and done, the chapter raised $12,000 and set that figure as its goal for the 1997 event.

In 1997 the fund again was thousands of dollars short of its goal two weeks before the deadline.  The chapter began promoting the event in the community and ended up only $300 short of their goal on show night.

The chapter's commitment to its community goes far beyond the annual fireworks display on Independence Day. Chapter 757 has made a commitment to demonstrate and celebrate that freedom on a daily basis.

When asked what makes the chapter so effective in the community, Hartzell replied, "We have a variety of members. There isn't much of a night life in Brookings, so people are involved in the community.''

Brookings is nestled along the southern Oregon coast, less than ten miles on U.S. Highway 101 from the California border. The decidedly rural lifestyle is quiet, friendly, and resolves around community.

Chapter 757 fits nicely because its members make up that community. As Hartzell pointed out, "Our members have been working in the community for years; now they're doing it as VVA members.''

On eight patriotic holidays each year along Highway 101 the chapter flies the U.S. and POW/MIA flags. On Memorial Day 1999 the first 24 flags flew along the route. Now, less than two full years into the project, the chapter has secured sponsorships from more than 300 local citizens, merchants, and businesses, and flags line the road for nearly two and a half miles. 

The Avenue of Flags is the pet project of AVVA member Judy Anderson, who is regarded with fondness as the chapter den mother. "I just pick up the slack,'' Anderson said, "I've met the most wonderful friends here.

"This is the most wonderful thing I've ever done,'' Anderson said, "The local paper receives letters to the editor from out-of-towners who pass through on the holidays and see the flags.  They say it's beautiful. We've seen a real increase in patriotic awareness in the community.''

"The chapter got permission from the city and they gave us the drills to cut the holes in the sidewalk,'' said Hartzell. "We put them along the route at 11- and 22-foot intervals, depending on driveway approaches and other traffic issues.''

Individuals and businesses are solicited for annual sponsorships for the display on Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Independence Day, Gold Star Mothers Day, POW/MIA Recognition Day, and other holidays. On those days the route is lined with American and POW/MIA flags.

"We also fly 24 flags on the Chetco River Bridge,'' says Anderson, whose brother served in Vietnam in 1969-70 with the U.S. Marine Corps. 

The chapter has made a clear commitment to its community. Recognition of Brookings-Harbor Chapter 757 as Chapter of the Year 2000 at the VVA Leadership Conference in Buffalo crystallized that.

Chapter projects range from the generous to the facetious. 

Nikki Becker was told she would never throw a javelin again after shoulder surgery. Becker refused to accept this prognosis as anything than a challenge to prove everyone wrong. The chapter reveled in the opportunity to help her attend the Olympic trials and raised $6,000 for Nikki Becker.

On the ridiculous side of the ledger is the annual spring-summer political spoof that names an honorary mayor of the mythical town of Brookings-Harbor. The idea was the brainchild of former Marine lieutenant and chapter member Bill Farrell.

Local community groups are asked to submit candidates for the position. Money is raised by selling votes, a practice not unknown in the real world of politics.

According to Hartzell, children had little to do in the community after school and gathered aimlessly on the streets. The "Mythical Mayors Race'' was developed to raise money for a community youth center.

Candidates from each party spend the spring campaigning and "selling'' votes at the price of 100 votes for one dollar. In 1998, the Anonymity Party ran the Unknown Candidate, a guy with a brown paper sack over his head. At the end of the campaign, the votes are counted, the money is tallied, and the winning candidate is declared Mythical Mayor of Brookings-Harbor.

In 1998, the first year the contest was run, the chapter raised $11,000 and used the money to open the youth center, which provided an opportunity for young people to congregate in a safe and secure environment and participate in wholesome activities.

"Now they're on their feet and receive grants and other support,'' says Hartzell of the Community Youth Center, which is entering its third year of service to the youth of the not-so-mythical Brookings-Harbor area.

The evidence submitted in support of the Chapter of the Year nomination weighs nearly three pounds and documents a solid, long-term commitment to community and the values of comradeship.

"The thing that makes me proudest,'' said Hartzell, "is that I'm around a bunch of people who like to do stuff for other people and enjoy doing it.''

"I've been involved most of my adult life in veterans affairs,'' said Anderson. "These guys are unique, there's not many like them. These guys are the best.''

They now are building a Living Memorial to those who served.

In his presentation to the Brookings City Council, chapter member Gil Rosario said the memorial would honor the men and women who served in Vietnam and returned home.

The memorial is carved from the root of a redwood tree estimated to be 1,800 years old. The 12-foot-tall redwood pillar will represent all branches of the armed forces and will stand near the Elmer Bankus Fountain in town. An American eagle with wings outstretched will crown the monument. The chapter has conducted auctions and other activities to support the memorial and its construction.

In presenting the award to Oregon State Council President Robert Palasch at the 2000 VVA Leadership Conference in Buffalo, N.Y., VVA President George C. Duggins said: "The decision was a tough one because the competition from so many chapters nominated across the nation was simply amazing.''

In a congratulatory phone call to chapter president Hartzell, Duggins said that what put Chapter 757 over the top as Chapter of the Year was that its members had done so much in their community in such a short time.

In 1998, Tri-State Appalachian Chapter 172 in Cumberland, Maryland, was so proud of its recognition as VVA Chapter of the Year that it had a beautiful banner made to hang in front of chapter headquarters.

In 1999, when Chapter 310 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, received the honor, Chapter 172 presented them with the "VVA Chapter of the Year'' banner to hang in front of their headquarters, pledging to have it back in Cumberland some day.

Now it's time for Chapter 310 to pass the banner on to the good folks who call Brookings, Oregon, Chapter 757 home.


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