Jim, my Vietnam War Veteran husband, and I spent Veteran’s Day weekend on a trip to Washington, D.C. with a busload of other Vietnam vets and their supporters as guests of the Vets To Washington Project. This project became the passion of Project Director Doug Hastings to help World War II veterans visit the war memorials. He set up the first trip in 2004 to fulfill a vet’s dream, and he continues the trips with the financial backing of donors and support personnel.
Our trip was the first planned for Vietnam veterans to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Vietnam War Memorial Wall. The vets began forming friendships at a “meet and greet” Thursday, and boarded the bus early Friday for a day-long trip punctuated with mini-history lessons that found the vets sharing their excitement.
On Saturday morning we arrived at the Vietnam Memorial and they became solemn and reflective while searching for names of family or comrades who did not make it home. Some were visibly upset and others consoled their new friends. We stood in reverent silence as veterans took turns reading the name of the 58,282 forever engraved on the wall.
We also visited the World War II and Korean War memorials and emotions again surfaced because some of our group had also served in Korea. One of our newfound friends looked at the statues depicting a patrol unit and said he sees the face of his brother who is listed as MIA in Korea.
Saturday was an emotional day and a chance to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice. It also brought a measure of healing to these vets, some of whom are still deeply affected by memories of that long-ago war.
Sunday’s ride home reflected the healing as the men began to tell their stories of the war. Men who earlier had been very quiet began to recount experiences – some difficult to rehash and some very funny. Many said they don’t talk of the war because some memories are best left in the past, and some said they don’t talk of it because of the disrespect they received from war protestors as they returned to American soil. However, they talked that day because they were among comrades who would understand.
We arrived home Sunday to a welcome home unlike their return 40 years earlier, with a motorcycle honor guard bearing American flags, people holding signs and huge banners created by North Augusta Elementary students. What a memorable weekend to help erase some of the pain of war!
Special thanks to Doug Hastings for his dedication to veterans, to the donors who make these trips possible, and to the support personnel for their valuable assistance. Join them to experience this first-hand or help the Vets To Washington Project sponsor these worthwhile adventures for veterans.
For more information, go to www.vetstowashington.com.