GREENTOWN, Ind. — It’s referred to as a “healing field,” and those who travel to visit share a sacred bond.
“I think this is an area where veterans feel safe,” said Larry Melton, co-founder of the Howard County Vietnam Veterans Organization, established in 1981.
They come out here and they rub elbows . with fellow veterans. They’re talking to people that know what they’re talking about.”
The annual Vietnam Veterans Reunion, the oldest such reunion in the country, started just as a plan to create a memorial for Howard County Vietnam veterans who did not return home.
Over the years, it has expanded to a weeklong appreciation for veterans across the country, allowing them to commune together in a safe space with other veterans and supporters.
“This is a healing field,” Melton said. “It’s a place to come, be calm and talk to your peers about what you went through, and they’ll tell you what they went through.”
Ceremonies were held at the Howard County Vietnam Veterans Organization Reunion Grounds on Saturday. Several were honored for their service, including Sammy L. Davis, the only surviving Indiana Medal of Honor recipient who served in the United States Army during the Vietnam War.
And in the crowd were dozens of veterans who came together for a day just to listen and tell stories of both hurt and triumph in one of America’s most controversial wars.
“I lost a lot of my good friends in Vietnam and lost a lot of them afterward with Agent Orange,” said Dennis Simpson, 70.
Between 1966 and 1967, Simpson fought in three major combat operations in Vietnam, one being one of the deadliest at the Battle of Suoi Tre where there was over 600 casualties.
Simpson remembers being a young man in the war, even spending his 21st birthday in a tree in the Mekong Delta.
“I looked up to God and said, ‘Of all places to turn 21,'” he said, jokingly.
On that night, the water was 12-feet deep, and to Simpson it was just another day closer to getting home, he said.
Even 50 years after the end of the Vietnam War, Simpson still struggles with the effects of the war. He abused alcohol for period of time following the war, but has since recovered with help from the veterans’ center in his home state of Ohio.
Although, he still battles with Posttraumatic stress disorder at times, Simpson is constantly improving with help from his loved ones.
Other health side effects are daily reminders of Simpson’s time in Vietnam, which is why for the last 15 years he’s made an effort to attend the reunion in Howard County.
The reunion has become his safe space.
It’s a place were he can talk about his past without feeling judged. It’s also where Simpson and hundreds of other veterans come to heal and support one another.
“I recommend for anyone who hasn’t been here to come here,” Simpson said.
“You don’t have to be a combat vet to come here. You still have a story. And coming here is like a big base camp. Once you walk through the gate . it’s secure and you’re among friends and everybody’s got a story.”
But once you’ve left the campgrounds, it isn’t easy for most vets to discuss with just anyone what they’ve been through, Simpson said.
“I felt like, for years (it was) a war we should not have been in,” said Morris Crawford. He served as a U.S. Navy Seal for six years.
“And the experiences that a lot of us went through, they really shouldn’t have happened. But we were in it and we were set up to try to win and I don’t think we ever won.”
And as Vietnam veterans are still struggling to win even at home in the U.S., with housing and healthcare, Crawford and his friend Robert Alexander, who served in the Army during Vietnam from 1967 to 1968, see the reunion as an essential part of appreciating Vietnam veterans, thanking them for what they have done for this country, and welcoming them home even 50 years later.
“We honor each other,” Alexander said. “The only support that we have is the vet centers and from individual vets. I’ve never seen a Vietnam vet that didn’t come up to me, or me go up to him and say, ‘Welcome home, brother.'”
Source: Kokomo Tribune, http://bit.ly/2cL6rFo
Information from: Kokomo Tribune, http://www.ktonline.com
This is an AP-Indiana Exchange story offered by the Kokomo Tribune.