Thursday, June 4, 2015

Remembering Vietnam

My husband is a Vietnam vet, belongs to several veterans’ organizations, and participates regularly in veterans’ activities locally and across the US. Our most recent event was the Tan Son Nhut reunion in Pigeon Forge, TN where close to 150 folks—veterans and their significant others—gathered for four days of camaraderie and shared memories.

The Tan Son Nhut Association was established “to respect all of those service personnel…as well as the many civilians who served at any time during the Vietnam conflict at the great airdrome at Tan Son Nhut, Air Base,” and membership is open to those who served in Vietnam January 1959 to April 1975 with some connection to Tan Son Nhut, even if it was just passing through.

The weekend activities included a bus tour of Gatlinburg and parts of the Smoky Mountain National Park, a Friday evening banquet, the dedication of a memorial bench honoring Vietnam veterans, a book signing with author Joe Galloway and plenty of free time for mingling in the well-stocked hospitality suite.

Banquet speaker Paul Galanti, an American POW in Vietnam for nearly seven years, flew 97 combat missions before he was shot down and captured in June 1966. He opened his presentation with the Tale of Two Cities quote: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” and went on to speak of the encouragement he received from a fellow POW after returning to his cell from a grueling ten-day torture session. Back in his cell, he heard tapping and the message that he was luckylucky to be alive and still have before him the possibility of going home alive, unlike so many soldiers in Vietnam who lost their lives. That positive spirit shone through in his talk with his fellow veterans, both on and off the stage.

Joe Galloway, co-author with Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore of We were Soldiers Once…and Young, was also at the banquet and signed copies of his book the next day. If you haven’t read the book, you may recall the 2002 movie We were Soldiers Once with Mel Gibson and Madeline Stowe. Galloway was a reporter during the war and in 1998 was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor for his bravery in carrying wounded off the field under fire during the 1965 Battle of Ia Drang.

The banquet, special events and hospitality suite were all outstanding, but the highlight of the reunion was the opportunity for these veterans to reminisce, to discover what happened to mutual acquaintances and to speak candidly of their experiences with those able to appreciate their stories. Several of the wives commented that they learned more about their husbands’ time in Vietnam from these conversations than they had ever learned one on one at home. 

In addition to dedicating a memorial bench or plaque wherever the reunion is held, this year the association is implementing the TSNA Scholarship program which will provide one scholarship per year to a descendant of a Vietnam veteran. To see more information about the new program, read the article on the TSNA website in the June 2015 Revetments.

Their motto is “All included, none excluded.” Are you a Vietnam vet?  Did you pass through Tan Son Nhut somehow, someway? Why not consider joining by completing an application at this link? Go a step further and attend the next reunion. You’ll be glad you did.