Vietnam veterans' reunion in Indiana brings 'family' together
Kokomo Tribune, Ind.
KOKOMO, Ind. — Family.
That one word is how many veterans describe the Howard County Vietnam Veterans Reunion.
“This is a brotherhood like no other,” Bill Frederick of Muncie said.
An Army combat engineer with the 86th Engineers, Frederick, who served in Vietnam in 1966 and 1967, has attended the annual reunions on Ind. 26 east of Kokomo for the past five years.
“It’s unbelievable. The average person doesn’t understand what this is all about. They don’t know what we faced,” he said at his campsite prior to the start of the 31st annual Howard County Vietnam Veterans Reunion.
“This is a healing field,” he said.
The reunions serve as a place for veterans to reminisce, meet fellow veterans and to remember those who didn’t make it back.
Like many Vietnam veterans, Frederick talked about how he was treated by people upon his return home. He said he and other veterans were called names such as “baby killer” and spit on. That treatment, he said, is something he doesn’t want the younger veterans to experience.
“People don’t realize the price we paid,” he said.
And because of that treatment, many veterans like Frederick pushed aside the memories, feelings and experiences until he came to the “healing field.”
“When I came back from Vietnam, I put everything in the closet and went to work six days a week. I put all my [military] stuff away.”
Then one day, he came to the reunion.
“This guy put out his hand and said, ‘Welcome home brother,’” he said. “I busted up. That’s what this place is all about. And there’s thousands of stories like that out here.”
Standing nearby, Frank Cheek, a Cherokee Indian, adorned the Marine Corps jacket of his friend, Michael Rogers, a Vietnam veteran who was injured in a motorcycle accident Wednesday evening in front of the reunion grounds.
“This is my first time here,” said Cheek, who is from Cedargrove, Tenn.
“I’m not a Vietnam veteran. I’m here to recognize Native American Indians who served and to support my friend, Michael Rodgers,” said Cheek.
Michael Rodgers, who Cheek said was riding with his brother, Monte G. Rodgers, 62, when the crash occurred, suffered internal injuries was airlifted to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.
Now his friends are hoping for his quick recovery.
“We’re here to support our friends, that’s what brothers do,” said Cheek.
The reunion kicked off with its traditional and emotional flag-raising ceremony. A group of veterans and families of veterans carried a large American flag across the grounds and unfurled it as hundreds of others looked on.
In a hushed and crackled voice, one veteran said, “ooh-rah” as the huge flag was raised above the grounds.
Early morning showers gave way to sunshine and clear skies as the reunion got underway.
“Everything’s going smooth,” said Bill “Dollar Bill” Lisbon, president of the Howard County Vietnam Veterans Organization, which puts on the annual event.
“It wouldn’t be a reunion without the rain,” he joked. “But these guys won’t let a little rain interrupt their party.”
Lisbon said veterans from more than 20 states have came to through the gates so far.
“This is something,” said Steve McPherson, a Vietnam-era veteran.
“My brother was killed in Vietnam and I have a lot of friends who died in Vietnam,” McPherson said, wiping the tears from his eyes after the flag-raising ceremony and playing of the National Anthem.
“I trained pilots who never made it back.”
McPherson said he has been attending the reunions for 24 years to remember friends and family who have served.
“My mom has been here for 31 years,” he said. “She’s 88 years old and hasn’t missed one.”
With family by her side, his mother, Erma Bliss, sat quietly in a gold cart after the emotional ceremony.
Bliss said she has a number of relatives who served in the military including three sons in the Army, a daughter in the Navy, a stepbrother in the Air Force and sister-law in the Navy.
“I used to serve as state president of American War Mothers,” she said demonstrating her dedication to veterans.
“As long as I’m alive, I’ll keep coming,” she said. “I’ll be here next year.”