N.C. veterans share war experiences
Times-News, Burlington, N.C.
BURLINGTON, N.C. — Their ages, skills and stories all varied, but the eight panelists on stage all shared the common title of veteran.
They came to the Paramount Theater Sunday afternoon to tell and answer questions about their time and experience in various wars, spanning from the 1940s to 2010.
Titled “Our Veterans Speak: A Panel Discussion with American Heroes,” the event was presented by Alamance County Public Libraries and featured local veterans from the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force.
“Every veteran here today has his or her own story to tell,” said Ken Sellers, a former Navy hospital corpsman who served during the Vietnam War. “It’s a story that’s unique to that individual, and no one else can tell it. If we don’t tell it, that story and all the insight someone can gain from it will be lost forever.”
Sellers moderated during the event, which involved the panelists answering questions from area Young Marines, as well as from Sellers.
When one of the students asked about what it was like returning to civilian life, Dwight Johnson, an Army sergeant who served in Vietnam, said he was glad things are much different than when he experienced the transition.
“Coming back from Vietnam was different than how it is with veterans today, and I’m so thankful for that,” Johnson said. “Today they’re praised, but then, it was rather tough.”
He said what made the transition even more challenging was overcoming the mental hardships that came with adjusting to life back in the United States and taking a civilian job.
“You never leave where you were,” he said. “Part of you is always there … I don’t know if you ever really return.”
Sellers added that he thought after the Vietnam War came a turning point for Americans in being able to “separate the war and the people fighting.”
Don Ball, a Navy veteran who served in the late 1990s during the Kosovo War, said it was somewhat difficult realizing that life continued on without him back home.
“(My family) were carrying on as usual and carried on with their daily life the same, and I felt like an outsider,” Ball said. “I want to have a say-so in things they’ve been doing for months while I’ve been gone, and it’s hard to work yourself back in with your own family.”
One student asked the panelists why they decided to join the military, and Sue Lamm-Gurley, a 1st lieutenant in the Air Force who served in the Vietnam War, said she knew it was her duty to her country.
Lamm-Gurley described the mid-1960s as a “turbulent time” to become an adult in America.
“There were a lot of flag burnings and draft card burnings,” she said, adding that she was raised on a farm in eastern North Carolina and was in nursing school when she decided she needed to join the military.
“I pledged I was going to do my part,” she said. “I was doing the only thing I knew I could do. I would take care of American veterans to the best of my ability, and that’s what I did do.”
In addition to the veterans, Brenda Perry, director of Alamance County Veteran Services, spoke at the event. She told the audience about how veterans now have to wait a year, on average, to process various types of claims, and encouraged attendees to talk to their representatives about increasing resources for veterans.
Perry also told the crowd they could provide assistance by donating to local food pantries that help “a lot of hungry and homeless veterans.”
Along with the panelists, veterans who spoke at the event included Stan Neuwmann, who served in the Army in Vietnam; David Potter, a specialist for the Army during the Kosovo War; Roget Thompson, who served in the Army and in Iraq with the National Guard; and George F. Tyson Jr., an Army colonel during World War II.