Vietnam Veteran shares his reflections about visiting the Vietnam Wall Memorial, writing, and healing.
We walked with a purpose, my friend and I beneath the clouded Washington sky.
The earth seemed to open as we approached from the east. We entered a world of tranquility, a world of peace.
At first it was hard to grasp the feeling. There was no indication of instant healing.The names were all there on the blackened surface. They were waiting for us to fulfill our purpose.
We made ourselves busy at tracing and such. A name to remember…. A soul to touch. Without knowing, as we made our way, our hearts were swelling with pride that day.
Tear did not fall as one might expect. It was a scene of resolve, love, and respect. The wall was black and all too complete. The wall was a reminder of what not to repeat.
Most names were unfamiliar, but not unknown. The seeds of war so long ago sown, has made us as one in another life. As one in good times and one in strife.
We moved on to the statue of three young men. They looked as we did, way back when. They were real in all ways but one….Frozen in time, a job well done.
The power of feeling is hard to express. Soldiers of combat, faces of distress. They looked to the wall in a peculiar way. Is it surprise or danger their eyes display?
I am a young man of 20 once again. If I touch them they will come alive, as if to say, “I also can survive”.
They move from the trees, and enter the clear. They move with caution, not hiding their fear. They have returned from a duty known only to them. They look to the wall, these three young men.
We return at night to share the peace. Our memories of this visit will never cease. The calm of the darkness brings a lump to the throat. Thoughts of another time are no longer remote.
There is a time we need to heal. There is a time we need to feel. Those names on The Wall and those three young men, Renewed my conviction to survive again.
Galen Gregerson (June 13, 1986)
“Reflections are important when one is trying to ascertain solutions to challenges. Where have I been and how did I get here? What do I need to make a decision? Who do I seek out for input? How many options do I have? Which options are most reasonable for me?What are my liabilities? What are my assets?
As a Nam Vet, do I revert to survival tactics for this challenge, this treating it like a mission? Or, do I incorporate feelings into my decision process? Perhaps I do need survival tactics initially, gaining strength through anger. However, that will not prevail over the long-haul. To remain “living life” rather than simply “surviving life” requires more thought, feeling, and determination.
Survival is automatic for the well-practiced Vietnam Veteran. Living life to its fullest with a sense for feelings is more difficult. The choice is mine, as is the reward. I choose to live my life. To survive life is too incomplete and too unforgiving”.
(excerpts) Galen Gregerson
October 25, 1994
*No blog is meant to substitute anyone seeking professional assistance or other support if needed. Each post are by individuals merely sharing their experiences, reflections, and hope.
Vietnam Veteran’s Day for Wisconsin, March 29th of each year
Thuy Smith is no longer focused on or involved with Vietnam Veteran’s Day events and activities. She has been talking about transitioning her focus and activities for the last couple of years. At this time TSIO has not endorsed any group or event moving forward with Vietnam Veteran’s Day for Wisconsin. Please see ideas below that groups and individuals moving forward into the future can use if they choose. Thuy Smith is currently not on advisory boards nor will she be able to participate at this time.
There are many things that can be done to bring awareness to Vietnam Veterans Day all throughout the month of March leading up to the actual day itself. Here are some ideas for groups and individuals to use, add to, change, or to jump-start other ideas. History and past events(Click here)
1.Vietnam Veteran’s Day (Main) Committee to oversee: Speaker’s Bureau, Main event (ceremony, banquets- can alternate from year to year), Various Outreaches to Veterans and community, etc. OR, different activities decided and divided among various Veteran organizations to implement. See more below.
2.Annual Banquets: This is an event that we did for a few years and many Veterans and their families enjoyed it. It is a great time to gather for camaraderie, networking, and making new friendships. We always had a speaker with a specific focus. Entertainment such as one song was the best approach we found since veterans reported the camaraderie aspect was the part they enjoyed the best.
3.Workshop: After the last couple of years of organizing an event that presented various displays that veterans created themselves, TSIO received reports that these activities and this type of event was the best ever. Many Veterans asked how they could get assistance in putting a display of their own together. This is where a workshop could come into play. Youth groups that have been involved in the past with TSIO events such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts would love an opportunity to get involved to put display boards or scrap books together. They are technically savy and creative. This would be another great opportunity to bridge the gap between the generations and create a mutual learning experience. Once these display boards and or scrap books are created, it is something the veteran can always have, add to, and use for potential speaking engagements, other presentations, and events. It is something they can leave with their families especially their children and grandchildren. A copy can be made and turned into the local historical society. Share your story, create your art.
4.Speakers: TSIO always tried to get someone to speak that can touch on either their own personal experience or some focus that had a universal message or appeal. TSIO understood that every person’s experience, process, and perspective is different. TSIO also understood that although there are many differences, there are also many similarities and common ground. TSIO always promoted and emphasized this understanding in hopes of bridging the gap through all speakers, activities, and events. TSIO kept the politics and controversies of the war itself out of our mission. We didn’t want to portray an “us against them” message with others in the community. Nobody can make anyone respect or honor anyone. It is something that has to naturally take place. Our emphasis was more on young men who went off to war long ago, voluntarily or not, and to create a platform to educate others about their individual experiences and perspectives. We wanted to use speakers that would debunk the myth of the stereotypical militaristic war mongering soldier glorifying war. We also wanted to separate ourselves from the minority individuals (Veterans and those portraying to be Veterans) who unfortunately would help perpetuate this very stereotype to the community and among their fellow Veterans. Instead of highlighting the war, we wanted to highlight a majority of the Veterans’ intentions of going to Vietnam, which was to do good. Our goal was to highlight and emphasize what many Vietnam Veterans are currently doing for their communities and those who continue to do positive things in Vietnam today. We made sure to incorporate family members to share their experiences and perspectives or on behalf of their Veteran.
5. Speakers Bureau: This could be set up with oversight through a board that is formed with representatives from various groups, organizations, and other individuals. A mission focus, policies, bylaws, non-voting membership rules and benefits, criteria, and terms can be set up for members of the oversight board as well as the speaker bureau itself. This will help encourage, empower, and promote diversity along with accountability and to prevent any one individual or group from dominating. The speakers from the bureau would be available to speak at Vietnam Veteran’s Day and other related events, civic groups and meetings, schools, the media, etc. Speeches can be done through various venues and platforms throughout the month of March to leading up to the actual day.
6. Veteran of the Year: This award could be given at the banquet with a nice plaque and introduction highlighting contributions and a few brief minutes for him or her to speak (can’t forget about the women). This could be a way to include your city council president or mayor and the media with a brief write-up and picture of the veteran and Vietnam Veteran’s Day. TSIO tried to put a positive face to Vietnam Veterans by highlighting the contributions of the Vietnam Veteran to his or her local community rather than relating it to the war itself. Any contribution to the community could be recognized, not just contributions made to their fellow veteran.
7. Scholarship: Create a writing competition (middle school age) with a theme related to Vietnam Veterans or the Vietnam War Era. For Ex: Agent Orange, PTSD, Coming Home, Medics and Nurses, Women in Vietnam, etc. A winner or winners are picked and earn scholarships such as $100, $500, etc. Again generating awareness and education around Vietnam Veterans and Vietnam Veteran’s Day by announcing the winner(s) in the newspaper with their picture and piece they wrote. It also gets the kids and schools involved. 8. Outreach to Veterans: The best way to get the word out is to simply do outreach, outreach, and more outreach to other Vietnam Veterans and their families. This is much of what Thuy Smith did to make connections with new Vietnam Veterans who were not yet aware of Vietnam Veteran’s Day, the event, and other activities involved. Thuy just didn’t invite people to attend something, she encouraged others to get involved and empowered them to believe that they had something of value to contribute as well. A poem, other reflection or writing, artwork, pictures, memorabilia, a story, insight from experience and lessons learned, a voice, etc. as much if not more as others who usually do the speaking. This is where the educational events with the individual displays come in quite nicely. This allowed for anyone and everyone (within appropriate guidelines) to contribute and have a voice.
9.Outreach to businesses and Churches: to have businesses and churches help bring awareness to their employees and congregations by announcing it in their newsletters, church bulletins, and other publications, to announce it to their customers, to have their veterans acknowledged at the workplace or at church, have them briefly speak, etc.
Proclamations: Contact and work with your local CVSO to find out how you can support the Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls City Council local proclamation that TSIO has started and implemented the last two years. If you are from another community, approach your local CVSO about implementing the same plan in your city that your CVSO’s office is based in. If your CVSO’s office is not based in your community, move forward with support of other Veterans and or Veteran organizations to propose the proclamation on your own. Many Veterans and their family members can be invited to attend and it can be another way to generate community and media acknowledgement and support.
Informational Cards: In 2010 one of our committee members proposed putting together a card which was the same size of a business card. On the front it said Vietnam Veteran’s Day, March 29 (bill passed in 2009), 1960-1975 (time frame of the Vietnam War Era), a map of Vietnam (major cities listed), service ribbons (across the bottom), National and Wisconsin statistics of active duty and those directly in Vietnam (on the back of the card). The front was done in an attractive red color for a nice keepsake. These are simple to make, easy to hand out, quick way to get the word out to fellow Veterans, their families, and others in the community.
12.T-shirts and Pins: In 2010 we created pins and T-shirts that can be distributed or used to raise funds to support other activities. This is something people would wear to generate ongoing free advertising and awareness to the day. Create your own to wear or have an official group create one to bring awareness to either the day itself or an event related to it.
Thuy Smith and TSIO has been involved with Vietnam Veterans and their families for 18 years. TSIO’s focus is not and has never been just a Veteran or Vietnam era focus. Although Thuy will no longer be involved with Vietnam Veteran’s Day activities, she wanted to leave her final thoughts and ideas for others to use, add to, or change if they choose. All information can be found on our website at TSIO.ORG
I stumbled onto your website. My dad fought in the Vietnam war as a teenager in the 70s, and I myself have been a missionary in Vietnam and China for the past 10 years, so I’m familiar with both sides of that war. I’ve been opposed to torture since first grade when I watched a classmate being tortured. But it seems useless trying to convince most people that torture is wrong because they will just argue with you for why it is justified. But I have seen the effectiveness of changing people’s views by letting them see/hear firsthand the perspective of the other side through their story of suffering. Anyway, I just wanted to congratulate you for what you are doing.
Oh, and BTW, I wanted to say sorry for the way you were treated during your childhood. I want to say that I wish I could have lived in your town so I could have stood up for you or been your friend, but I don’t know if that’s what I would have really done (but I would do it now at least), so all I can say is I’m sorry for how people treated you and that I didn’t stand up for you and that I will at least do it now.
Thank you David for sharing with me. From a fellow child of a Vietnam Vet, that means a lot to me. Much of what you are referring to actually came from adults although some youth were taught this behavior too. Today it is many of the youth who are the ones educating other adults. It is not always wisdom comes from age, but rather out of the mouth of babes shall come forth wisdom. I appreciate your letter and your real honesty. Although I do experience it at times today, this was many years ago now that I initially experienced this. However, you still took the time to say this to me today. As you are proud of your father, he should be of you.
Sons and Daughters of Veterans, Advocates for Peace and Healing for all