Chapter Nine's Quarter Century
BY R. MICHAEL SAND AND KEITH
Chapter Nine, a front-runner in
the fight for veterans’ rights, has been fulfilling the mission
of Vietnam Veterans of America for over twenty-five years. L.Z.
Motown’s roots go back to the mid and late ’70s at Wayne State
University where Detroit-area Vietnam veterans had enrolled in
classes under the G.I. Bill. The veterans were being ostracized
by segments of American society and were experiencing
Groups called the “Bamboo Rap”
and “Flight of the Phoenix” came together to offer support and
opportunities for veterans dealing with the aftermath of their
war experience. Vietnam veterans weren’t being accepted by the
old-line veterans’ organizations; the VA system and its
hospitals were terribly run down. PTSD, Agent Orange,
unemployment, and other issues were not being addressed. Most
Vietnam veterans just wanted to get on with their lives and
leave the war behind.
The Michigan Veterans Trust Fund
recognized those who served by creating a database of the
state’s Vietnam veterans. Eligible veterans received a $600
bonus from the state, along with a bumper sticker that read
“Vietnam Vet and Proud of It.”
In 1979, eight Detroit-area
veterans from the Wayne State group came together to form
Vietnam Veterans of Michigan (VVM). They met at various
locations to conduct business and recruit members. They tracked
down cars with “Vietnam Vet” bumper stickers and handed the
drivers applications. As the membership grew, the organization
needed a home of its own.
At around the same time, Bobby
Muller was forming Vietnam Veterans of America. When Muller
heard about VVM, he invited the group to merge with VVA. After
many debates and joint VVM/VVA meetings, they finally did. In
late 1980, membership documents were signed for VVA Detroit
Meanwhile, the drive for a
building got a boost from a series of fund-raising events.
Chapter-designed hats, tee-shirts, pins, and other merchandise
kept the money flowing. One of the larger fund-raising events
was held at Harpo’s Music Hall on the east side of Detroit.
Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels were the headliners. The
money raised went to the purchase of Greenfield’s Restaurant at
Woodward and Temple in the heart of the city. Although the
abandoned building had no heat, water, or power, it became the
The renovation of Greenfield’s
was completed in the early 1980s. Members went to the streets of
the city’s infamous Cass Corridor and took a “bite out of crime”
by using 2x4’s and baseball bats to chase pimps, prostitutes,
car thieves, and drug dealers out of the neighborhood. Bob Pisor,
a Vietnam-era veteran and the anchor for WDIV Channel 4,
produced a feature about Chapter Nine’s war on crime in the
city. With the help of the mayor’s office, the Detroit Police
Department, the Greater Detroit Building Trades Council, the
local Navy Seabee reservists, the UAW, and the membership, the
job was done. L.Z. Motown opened its doors and became a viable
veterans service center in the heart of the city.
In order to keep the doors open
and their programs running, chapter members were always
fund-raising. One of the early members designed, patented, and
turned over the rights to produce a license plate with a Huey
helicopter emblazoned over the Vietnam Service Medal. As more
veterans came forward to show their pride in their military
service and their support for fellow Vietnam veterans, sales
soared. Soon, new varieties of VVA Chapter Nine hats, shirts,
and other items went on sale. When Chapter Nine members helped
create the VVA Michigan State Council, they supplied much of the
Vietnam veteran merchandise to new chapters throughout the
Many other activities were used
to generate funds—raffles, dinners, dances, “millionaire”
parties, rummage sales, car washes, and auctions, to name a few.
The building was expensive to maintain, and competition from
other chapters made fund-raising more difficult. Chapter Nine
was located in the inner city, and everyone in the area was
poor. In fact, many chapter members were homeless. Through it
all, the chapter remained vibrant.
Chapter Nine set up its education
program in conjunction with local schools and universities. Its
speakers’ bureau put together symposia and classroom discussions
at town halls, community centers, and classrooms all over the
metropolitan area. Veterans brought their stories to audiences
in places such as the Grosse Pointe War Memorial, Detroit
Athletic Club, and the University of Michigan. Through history
and English classes at Wayne State University, students learned
about the Vietnam experience via talks, writings, and poetry
presented by Chapter Nine members. University Liggett School, a
private preparatory school in Grosse Pointe, sponsored a
day-long program that brought high school students and veterans
together to develop a better understanding of the war in Vietnam
and its effect on American society.
By 1985, Chapter Nine had nearly
a thousand members, including General William Westmoreland,
Mayor Coleman Young, Oliver North, Kris Kristofferson, Willie
Nelson, and Country Joe MacDonald. During a period of financial
uncertainty, the chapter lent the national organization $5,000.
Detroit hosted VVA’s Second National Convention in 1985.
Thousands of VVA members came together in Detroit, and L.Z.
Motown contributed substantially to cover expenses.
Most of the VVA chapters in
Southeastern Michigan were formed by members of Chapter Nine.
L.Z. Motown became known as the “Mother Chapter” as more and
more chapters were created by spin-offs from Chapter Nine. Turf
wars ensued, but eventually agreements were reached and things
settled down. Many activities became joint ventures in which all
Under the motto “In Service to
America,” Chapter Nine spearheaded countless community-based
programs throughout the Detroit area. Chapter members, their
friends, and families showed up with brooms and shovels to clean
the block of trash and debris. The building hosted counseling
sessions to help homeless veterans find jobs and reintegrate
into society. Eventually, the Michigan Veterans Foundation was
established. Chapter Nine influenced the decision to open the
new VA hospital in the city rather than rehabilitate the
outdated Allen Park facility. During the construction of the
hospital, the chapter donated office space to the VA so they
could provide much-needed services to local veterans.
In the 1990s, holding true to the
VVA motto that “never again will one generation of veterans
abandon another,” Chapter Nine began organizing rallies to
support troops from the first Gulf War, beginning with a parade
down Woodward Avenue. One rally was videotaped by WJBK-TV and
sent to the crew of the USS Ranger in the Persian Gulf. As local
troops came home from the war, they were given grand receptions
at chapter functions. Some joined as VVA associate members.
A bill was passed to build a
state Vietnam Veterans Memorial Monument in Lansing. Most of the
commissioners appointed to fulfill the task of reaching this
goal came from—or later joined—the ranks of Chapter Nine. The
Michigan Monument is located in the heart of the state capital,
near the Hall of Justice, the Michigan Historical Library, and
the Capitol itself. The memorial recognizes the 2,654 Michigan
Vietnam servicemen and one woman who paid the ultimate price.
Chapter Nine played an important
role in the establishment of the Canadian Vietnam Veterans
Memorial, as well. The North Wall, as it is affectionately
called, sits proudly at the foot of the Ambassador Bridge in
Windsor, Ontario. Organizers used L.Z. Motown as a base of
operations to run most of its fund-raisers and rallies. The
annual “Run to the North Wall” motorcycle rally began at Chapter
Nine a year after the dedication, and it continues today. A
plaque at the base of the memorial recognizes the chapter’s
The membership recently decided
to downsize its headquarters and meet at a smaller facility. The
price of utilities and upkeep was prohibitive. However, the
chapter’s commitment remains to the city of Detroit and also
reaches beyond its boundaries. As the conflict in Iraq
continues, our troops will not be forgotten or mistreated as
long as one Chapter Nine member is standing. As Vietnam veterans
enter their golden years, Chapter Nine veterans and associates,
their families, and friends can rest assured that the job of
serving America has been done well. The chapter has laid a solid
foundation that will stand for years to come.
Mike Sand is on the Chapter Nine Board of Directors; Keith
King is the chapter secretary.