Healing old wounds

Published 9:47 am Thursday, May 15, 2014

North Carolina Vietnam Veterans of America State Council President Joseph Kristek (center) presents the official Charter to Ahoskie Chapter 1094 officials, from left, Steve Vinson, Johnnie Ray Farmer, James Hutchinson and John Bracy. Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

North Carolina Vietnam Veterans of America State Council President Joseph Kristek (center) presents the official Charter to Ahoskie Chapter 1094 officials, from left, Steve Vinson, Johnnie Ray Farmer, James Hutchinson and John Bracy. Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

AHOSKIE – Unlike their military brethren from other conflicts across the world, Vietnam War veterans came home without much fanfare.

Many bore the pain of being targeted by their fellow Americans as the scapegoats of an unpopular and misunderstood war. They were ridiculed, as well as on the receiving end of verbal abuse, and in the worst case scenario, physical assault. Some chose to keep quiet about their involvement in that war. Instead of proudly wearing their uniform or displaying their medals earned for bravery and courage under fire, they chose to discard those items, fearing public humiliation.

But, as they say, time heals all wounds, and that fact is evident with the formation of a new Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) Chapter in Ahoskie.

That local group was formally christened Tuesday night at the Parker Veterans Center, the home of Hertford County American Legion Post 102. There, North Carolina VVA State Council President Joseph “Joe” Kristek presented the official charter and paperwork from the national office, thus announcing the birth of Ahoskie VVA Chapter 1094.

Also on hand was Skip Hatch of VVA Chapter 631 in ElizabethCity. Hatch was one of the driving forces behind the establishment of the new VVA Chapter in Ahoskie. On behalf of Chapter 631, he presented his Ahoskie-based brethren with a check for $100 to assist in their start-up.

“Skip did 98 percent of the work; I’m here for the window dressing,” said Kristek. “One of the best things a state president can do is welcome a new chapter. This is the fifth chapter to come onboard in the last six years and the VVA welcomes Ahoskie Chapter 1094. We know you’ll do good work within your community.”

Kristek went on to note there were now 21 VVA chapters statewide, serving over 2,000 Vietnam vets. North Carolina is one of 48 states with VVA chapters, he added. All totaled – to include those in Puerto Rico and the Philippines – there are over 70,000 members worldwide.

“As we all know, North Carolina has long prided itself in the number of men and women who have served this great nation in times of war and peace,” Kristek said. “As I look around this room tonight I can still see that pride in your faces. It doesn’t matter which veteran’s organization you decide to join – the VVA, the American Legion or the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars), the fact that you are a part, the fact that you are taking an active role in your community, means you still serve with pride.”

Kristek encouraged the state’s newest VVA Chapter to seek out and invite other Vietnam veterans to join the Ahoskie organization.

“Each and every one of you are membership chairpersons,” he said. “If you see someone in Wal Mart or wherever with a Vietnam cap or wearing some other type of insignia, go up and introduce yourself and invite them to attend one of your meetings and check your group out. Perhaps they’ll like what they see and hear and decide to join.”

Membership into the VVA is only $20, and includes liability insurance coverage.

Each VVA chapter is entitled to send two delegates to the bi-annual State Council meeting in Durham.

As part of Tuesday’s ceremony to officially present the VVA charter to Chapter 1094 of Ahoskie, Kristek formally swore in the local officers – Johnnie Ray Farmer (President), John Bracy (Vice President), James Hutchinson (Treasurer), and Steve Vinson (Director). Not present was Roger Kiker (Secretary).

Farmer, who served one tour of duty (1970) in Vietnam with the U.S, Army, said he initially had doubts there would be enough local interest to form a VVA Chapter.

“When the guys from the Elizabeth City Chapter first approached us, I doubted we could put together enough Vietnam vets to form a chapter here,” Farmer admitted. “However, we had over 20 to show up for our first pre-organizational meeting and actually wound-up with 31 charter members here.

“We’ve having 20-to-25 now per meeting…that’s impressive. I feel we’re off to a good start. We have a good foundation and we hope that we’ll continue to grow,” he added.

Farmer noted that Vietnam veterans are still hurting because of the way they were brushed aside upon returning home after their tour of duty.

“The VVA is helping to heal those emotional wounds,” Farmer stressed. “We are banding together with a plan to do a lot of good things here in our community, to include helping other veterans in need. We’ll do some fundraisers to raise money to support those projects.

“We’re excited about the possibilities we have here and we’re looking to recruit other Vietnam veterans to join our efforts,” Farmer closed.

Local veterans from the Vietnam War interested in joining VVA Chapter 1094 can contact Farmer at 252-209-1328.

Founded in 1978, Vietnam Veterans of America is the only national Vietnam veterans’ organization congressionally chartered and exclusively dedicated to Vietnam-era veterans and their families. VVA is organized as a not-for-profit corporation and is tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(19) of the Internal Revenue Service Code.

To learn more, visit www.vva.org.


About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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