Small But Powerful: Magnolia, Arkansas, Chapter 808
BY DALE SPRUSANSKY
Possessing a deep commitment to their fellow Vietnam veterans, their community, and the newest generation of returning veterans, the members of Chapter 808 in Magnolia, Arkansas, do not allow their limited budget and small size to restrict their outreach or minimize their ambitions. Describing the Chapter, Ivory “Joe” McIntyre, the former Chapter president and the current president of the Arkansas State Council, said, “We’re small, but we’re powerful.”
Chapter 808’s power can be seen in the plethora of charitable work it carries out in southwest Arkansas. The Chapter participates in a wide range of school programs, such as Magnolia Central Elementary School’s veterans program; works with the Southwest Arkansas Community Development Corporation’s tutoring, mentoring, and anti-smoking programs; helps local organizations distribute goods to those in need; and works with the county health department to distribute flu shots. The Chapter also awards three need-based $250 scholarships each year to recent high school graduates.
Chapter 808 also has worked hard to find a place for returning veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan within VVA. “They need to be involved in a way that they can carry on our legacy. We have established too much to let it go when the last Vietnam vet dies,” McIntyre said. He hopes that Chapter 808’s efforts to recruit the newest generation of veterans as associate members will bear fruit. “We have to have something to offer these young men,” he said. “Our aim is to make them feel that they are a part of this organization.”
Chapter 808 operates a van that is used to transport local veterans to VA hospitals in Shreveport, Louisiana, and Little Rock, Arkansas, both of which are more than a ninety-minute drive from Magnolia.
Chapter 808 also works to educate veterans on the benefits they are eligible to receive through a series of workshops and seminars. The Chapter helps those who are following up on or filing claims with the VA for the first time. “We go the whole mile,” McIntyre said of the Chapter’s commitment to veterans. “We stay with them until benefits are received.”
Despite his Chapter’s outreach, McIntyre, who served tours of duty in Da Nang and Qui Nhon, believes that the group still has much work to do in terms of informing veterans about the benefits they are eligible to receive. “There are a lot of vets we have not contacted who need our assistance,” he said.
It was this sense of tremendous need that led to the Chapter’s founding by Clifton White in 1998. Back in the area from Washington, D.C., in 1997, White saw many veterans running away from their physical and mental problems. He decided that Magnolia needed a local VVA chapter.
White said that Chapter 808 originated in a Little Rock chapter. Once White was able to organize enough members from his area, they broke off from Little Rock and formed their own chapter. Chapter 808 grew at a tremendous rate, and by the mid-2000s the Chapter had more than three hundred members. “I had vets traveling over a hundred miles to come to the weekly meetings,” White said.
Just as Chapter membership peaked, however, White said that ugly racial politics within the Arkansas State Council dealt a severe blow to the Chapter. When he began the Chapter in 1998, there were only two or three blacks in chapters across the state. “Nobody had ever invited them to be a part of the organization,” he said. But by 2004, 70 percent of Chapter 808’s three hundred members were African American. Because no other chapter in the state had more than sixty or seventy members, Chapter 808’s large membership gave it significant sway in statewide voting matters. Unhappy with the power held by the black-majority chapter, White said that the Arkansas State Council made arbitrary and illegal changes in voting procedures to constrain Chapter 808.
After protesting the changes, White said that he was suspended by the State Council on bogus allegations of impropriety. The hostility toward Chapter 808 caused members to fall away, White said. “They tried to destroy me, and really it hurt Vietnam veterans all across the state.” Today, Chapter 808 is comprised of thirty-three life members and seventeen individual and associate members.
Despite its membership challenges, Arkansas State Council President McIntyre has a bullish assessment of Chapter 808’s future. “It is our hope to bring 808 up to the top with other larger chapters,” he said. At the same time, McIntyre and his fellow members remain genuine and humble.
“We’re just a group of old country boys trying to do what’s right,” he said.
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