We must never forget the horrific dishonor that many of our veteran brothers and sisters faced upon their return from Vietnam. Stories of being snubbed, called names, and even spat upon are unfathomable to a society that today reveres its soldiers returning from war. It wasn’t until the late seventies that something was done to prioritize the issues our Vietnam-era veterans and their families faced.
In 1978, a small group of Vietnam veteran activists went to Washington in search of allies to support the creation of an advocacy organization devoted exclusively to the needs of the Vietnam veterans. Initially known as the Council of Vietnam Veterans, the members felt if they brought attention to the plight of the Vietnam veteran that a grateful nation would take steps to remedy them. Sadly, they failed to win even a single legislative victory.
Thankfully this group did not give up. They soon came to realize that political strength would be measured in numbers, and numbers translated to membership. By 1979, the Council of Vietnam veterans was transformed into Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), an organization that today is 75,000 members strong, with more than 650 chapters throughout the U.S., Puerto Rico, the Virgin Island, Guam and the Philippines. Their founding principle is “Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.” VVA’s goals are to promote and support the full range of issues important to Vietnam veterans, to create a new identity for this generation of veterans, and to change public perception of Vietnam veterans.
Athens Chapter 511 is 188 members strong and is named in honor of PFC Gary Elmore, the first Limestone County soldier to be killed in action in Vietnam in 1965. PFC Elmore served with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade. He attended Tanner High School.
In addition to upholding the principles of the national organization, Chapter 511 supports the local community in many ways. One of these programs is a scholarship program awarded to local high school students. You can help support this scholarship program by joining them for lunch or dinner. On the third Monday of each month, Chapter 511 and Associates holds an all-you-can-eat spaghetti meal for just $7.00. Lunch is served from 11ma-1pm, and dinner runs from 5pm-7pm. Proceeds go to support the scholarship fund.
Chapter 511 president, Ron Webster, invites potential new members to come to their meeting and see what they are doing for our community. Meetings are held on the first Tuesday of the month, with dinner starting at 6pm and the actual meeting beginning at 7pm. At this time, a lifetime membership is only $100.00, a single year membership is $20.00, and 3 years is $50.00.
Their building is also available for rent. It is a great place for civic organizations, church groups, community events, and craft/trade shows. The Vietnam Veterans building is located at 17915 W. Elm St., Athens, AL 35612. For more information on membership, building rental or general information about the Vietnam Veterans of America, please call 256-431-3213.
I am reminded daily of the need to educate our future generations by a short story I keep in a frame in my office. When my son was in 4th grade, he was given an assignment to write a piece called “My American Hero.” I was surprised and proud when he decided to write about a Vietnam veteran we had recently met. This is his short essay:
“My hero is Terry Lane. He fought in Vietnam. His life was horrible when he came back from ‘Nam. The reason was the news anchor lied and his comrades were hated by Americans because of that news anchor. He is really not messed up, but he can tell a good story, but when he tells about his fallen friend it is sad.”
As they say, out of the mouths of babes…
By: Sandra Thompson, Director, Alabama Veterans’ Museum