Monday, April 12, 2010

We Are All Brothers

Many Vietnam veterans would love to revisit Vietnam. As our Vietnam veterans grow older, with health issues more prevalent, dreams of returning to Vietnam begin to slip away from the grasp of some. We also understand that there are veterans and family who have no desire to return to Vietnam, but are curious. Consequently, there are events where Tours Of Peace (TOP) Vietnam Veterans brings Vietnam to community and veteran events--part of our Educational Program. At these gatherings, we often are asked to speak to attendees; as well as display pictures, articles and information about TOP, Vietnam as it is today and issues within the ex-military community. Such was the case, recently at the "Gathering of American Indian Veterans" in northern Arizona--where TOP was honored to deliver the keynote address. Afterward, Native Americans filed by our display table and shared many stories with TOP.

The gathering was blessed with beautiful weather in Hopi country; complimented by warm and joyful Hopi hospitality. The ceremony began with Miss Hopi singing a beautiful a-cappella rendition of "The Star Spangle Banner."

Address "Key Notes":
  • The effects of war and PTSD do not discriminate. "We are all brothers." This quote originally was uttered by ex-Vietnamese military we encountered who fought with and against Americans: Today, old friends & foe seem to share a common DNA. Many Native Americans from the World War II conflict, Korean War, Vietnam, Desert Storm and Iraq Wars, present at the gathering, agreed that no culture, rank or military job is immune from the war experience. This is part of the essence of TOP's Veterans Program.
  • "Although we did not fight in Vietnam, we fought on a different battlefield." -- Wife of Vietnam veteran who traveled on a Tour Of Peace. Our keynote address recognized the sacrifice family members make; yet receive few accolades and no medals for their "service." TOP recognizes the family through our Family Program. A mother of a son who had just returned from Iraq could be seen softly shedding tears in the audience.
  • We shared real-life stories that all-too-many veterans & family relate to: "That day, before TOP called about finding my dog tag, I was preparing to kill myself; having lost both legs in Vietnam, I felt hopeless...Now I am going to use my dog tag as a means to open up a dialogue and establish a relationship with my son." Through our Personal Effects Program, TOP was instrumental in saving the life of a disabled Vietnam veteran contemplating suicide. (We would later hear from his son who tried to be like his father and served as a Marine in Iraq.)
  • TOP Vietnam Veterans had just returned from trips to ethnic tribal areas of northwest Vietnam and conducting humanitarian work in among tribal regions of the Central Highlands. The Humanitarian Program is a key component on our Tours Of Peace. In the keynote address, parallels between Native American & Vietnamese tribes were made.
  • The address ended by emphasizing the veteran brotherhood that exists between us all. Ultimately, veterans & families share responsibility to look after each other--especially those suffering from trauma--and unified, follow a path for peace, healing & closure. "By helping others, we help ourselves." --TOP motto.
Later, after the speech, an Apache Vietnam veteran confided, "You were talking to me...that is me, you spoke of." He had related deeply to the speech message and we had connected.

One by one, warriors from different eras filed by to open up and share with us issues close to their hearts and difficult to talk about:

We spoke with a World War II 85-year-old Native American who had landed on the beach at Normandy. Korean Veterans talked about how hard that war was; of course, lots of Vietnam Veterans had much to say. Afghanistan and Iraq veterans were also there and notably more silent than veterans of previous wars. "I didn't have it as bad as Vietnam soldiers," said a former Marine who served in Iraq. (It is a common phenomenon of soldiers to minimize their combat experience this way). However, we reassured the Iraq veteran that his service was of great significance and acknowledged & recognized the Iraq veteran's service; paying tribute to his contribution.

During the function, as we talked, Native Americans entertained with modern Native American music.

One Hopi veteran was conflicted: "We come from a peaceful culture which teaches against harming or taking a life; It is a struggle to serve in war and challenging to reconcile, based on our beliefs." Nonetheless, Native American veterans are very patriotic and loyal to their former branches of service.

Later, that afternoon, the "Gathering of American Indian Veterans" came to a close. Display gear was packed and "goodbyes" were said to newly made friends. Driving away from this peaceful place for home, the keynote theme, "We are all brothers" still resonated within ... as some of our brother & sister veterans & family could be seen leaving on foot to unknown locations in nearby hills & mesas nearby in quiet and peaceful retrospect.