We who have seen war, will never stop seeing it. In the silence of the night, we will always hear the screams. So this is our story, for we were soldiers once, and young
I’ve been a member of the Kenosha Area Vietnam Vets (KAVV) almost since the group began, back in the early 1980’s. When Vietnam War veterans returned after their tours of duty were complete, the mood of America was not welcoming. And that unwelcoming attitude included many veterans’ organizations of the time, including some prominent ones in our town of Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Our local VFW, unflinchingly stated that Vietnam Vets were not welcome there. Many hard feelings were created as a result of the treatment we received, not only at the hands of the hippies and ne’er do wells, but also at the hands of Veteran organizations that professed to advocate for veterans, one and all. And it was many years before that negative attitude changed.
In response to that treatment, a number of Vietnam Veterans from Southeastern Wisconsin started gathering informally. At first, we met in a local park. After a time, the powers that be at Kemper Center graciously offered us the use of a small building on the Eastern most end of their property. And there we met and conducted our business for many years after.
At its peak, the KAVV exceeded eighty members. And our members were active. We participated in the annual Kenosha fourth of July parade every year and were always welcomed soundly. (We won the blue ribbon quite often) We almost always had a summer picnic, and we donated funds, labor and materials to other local groups in need, including worthy youngsters seeking a college education. We promoted positive activities by Vietnam Veterans and attempted to provide a good example for the public eye.
The KAVV fielded a soft ball team for several years. We didn’t win all of our games, but we won the hearts of many of the fans …and some opponents also.
As a result of our experiences in Vietnam, and the negativity we faced at home, we were always a close-knit group. We stick by each other through thick and thin, and always have each other’s backs. When a member passes, he is mourned by all.
When the tide began to turn, and the negative attitude regarding Vietnam Veterans softened, the local VFW sent a contingent to one of our meetings and formally apologized for the treatment we had received at their hands. Some of our members were able to accept their apology, some never will, but many of us thought it was a solid gesture.
As the years have passed, our membership has dwindled. Agent Orange, PTSD related issues, and age have thinned out our ranks. Current meetings rarely draw more than a dozen participants, and fully staffing group officers is difficult.
One function of our group, which has flourished, thanks to some very dedicated members is our color guard. Each and every Veteran funeral in the Kenosha area is offered the services of our Kenosha Area Vietnam Vets color guard. They deliver a final tribute to the veteran, and provide comfort and pride to his or her family. The dedication of this group cannot be overstated. On many weeks they tend to multiple funerals, sometimes more than one a day. And they’re out there in all kinds of weather, all year long. The color guard accepts donations for their services, which are only used to purchase uniforms and other color guard supplies. They do it for their fellow Veterans.
Our annual Christmas party is coming up soon, and it’s always a great event. We have a DJ, music, raffles, beverages and a fine dinner. But most of all we have each other, and from far and wide we gather, remembering the old times; some good, some not so good. But we persevered through the “bad old days” and are now enjoying the good new days, when it’s a great time to be a Veteran.
So Welcome Home, my Nam Vet brothers and sisters, and Welcome Home to all vets everywhere.
And thank you to The Kenosha Area Vietnam Vets, for providing a badly needed port in a storm.
You are welcome to share Joe’s blogs on Facebook or any other media, in their entirety with citation acknowledging Joe as the author. Copyright protected, all rights reserved © Joe Campolo Jr.