|Vietnam Veterans of America|
VVA 1030 Offers Scholarships—and Wheels—in the Name of Freedom
BY GREGORY McNAMEE
Freedom is not free. Everyone who has served in the nation’s armed services knows the meaning of those four words intimately. And as for today’s teenagers? Well, their elders will be glad to know that many of them understand the phrase before ever having done military service themselves.
One of those young people is Julia Marie Watt, a recent graduate of Forsyth County High School in Cumming, Georgia, a small town about 40 miles northeast of downtown Atlanta. Julia’s grandfather served in the Marines and saw combat in Vietnam. One day, Julia said, he went on sick call with dysentery, and the Marine who went out on patrol in his place was killed. Her grandfather has carried survivor’s guilt ever since.
“While we always remember to honor my grandfather on Veterans Day and he is glad to accept our thanks,” she wrote, “he always reminds us on Memorial Day about the people grieving over friends and family that he misses himself.” That sorrow, she concluded, is just one of countless examples of the price of freedom.
Cumming is home to VVA Chapter 1030, which is in its fifth year of awarding scholarships to Forsyth County seniors like Julia. Her words come from an essay she wrote in competition for one of five $1,500 scholarships that the chapter awards annually, each of them given in the name of a Georgian killed in action.
Her essay and application won a scholarship commemorating Larry Franklin Davis, an Army sergeant from Ellijay, a small town roughly midway between Cumming and Chattanooga, Tennessee. He died in combat at the age of 21 on September 15, 1970. Nearly 50 years later, on July 14, 2020, Sgt. Davis’ sisters, Bea Rice and Merle Farist, presented Julia with the scholarship check, along with a certificate and a photograph of their brother.
The scholarship funds are unrestricted, but according to Marty Farrell, who helps publicize Chapter 1030’s activities and who served on an Air Force C-135 crew, most of the recipients have used them to defray the cost of textbooks and incidentals. Indeed, many of the winning students are extraordinarily talented academically and have received other scholarships to cover more significant costs such as tuition. Julia Watt, for example, has been admitted into the Honors Program at the University of Georgia. Another scholarship winner, Sydney Martin, will attend Berry College in Rome, Georgia.
Sydney’s scholarship was presented by the Rev. Sonya Young, the sister of Army Spec.4 George Lamar Young, who died at just 20 in Tay Ninh Province on November 25, 1968. A member of the 7th Cavalry, he was awarded the Bronze Star.
Like many scholarship recipients, Sydney’s knowledge of the Vietnam War came from relatives—her grandfather served in the Army for 22 years, as she recounted in her winning essay—and from the classroom, in her case an Advanced Placement course in history. Her knowledge was deepened by meeting the members of Chapter 1030, whom, she said in an email, “allowed me to better understand how individual, real-life people who fought in the war were actually affected by it besides from just hearing stories from my teacher. It was a great experience and made me feel more respect for the veterans by being there with them.”
THE CREAM OF THE CROP
The essay is a critical component of the scholarship competition. This year about 40 applications were submitted and reviewed by a committee of Chapter 1030 members. It’s never an easy choice, said Marty Farrell, since all the candidates have strong academic backgrounds and a history of involvement in both school organizations and community service. “Believe me,” he added, “these are the cream of the crop. If we could afford it, we’d give every one of them scholarships. That’s how good they are.”
Another winning entrant this year is Cohen Vail, whose award is in honor of Marine Corps Pvt. Timothy John O’Keefe, who was killed in action on April 20, 1968. Cohen exemplifies Farrell’s description of the scholarship applicants: Enrolled in the University of Georgia, he is academically accomplished and was involved in many school and civic organizations. And he intends to join the Marines himself.
“Although most of my knowledge of the physical aspects of the war came from primary schooling and words of wisdom from my JROTC instructors,” he said, “the experience of meeting the members of Chapter 1030 served to expand my knowledge of the level of hardship every man and woman serving in Vietnam had to endure, as well as the ultimate sacrifice so many had to pay, which further deepened my level of respect for every veteran of this conflict, and all others.”
“These kids get it,” said Gary Goyette, Chapter 1030’s president, who served at Vinh Long Airfield with MACV. “They absolutely get it. They understand our service and the sacrifices we made. They know that freedom comes at a cost.”
That’s clear from an email exchange with Julia Watt, who wrote: “During the writing of my essay, I became more aware of the extent of the sacrifices made and the value of freedom. Meeting the people and family at the ceremony and receiving the scholarship in honor of Sgt. Davis made me feel more connected to the principles of freedom and sacrifice that go hand in hand.”
There is still plenty of work to be done and plenty of scholarships to be awarded in the names of the 1,731 Georgians in service who died during the Vietnam War years. But Chapter 1030 and its 93 members have other projects as well—a Christmas toy drive, fundraising breakfasts, and other events, many of which have been sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic.
One project that has not been put on hold by the virus, though, is the chapter’s ongoing service helping homeless veterans with supplies, shelter, and transportation. Chapter 1030 supports the North Georgia Homeless Veterans Home in Winder, about 40 miles southeast of Cumming. “One part of that was providing them with a new van—well, a new used van,” Marty Farrell said. “They had one that was nearly 20 years old and had a quarter of a million miles on it.”
“We’d been donating money, food, paper products, and that sort of thing, but when we looked at that van we knew we needed to get them something better,” Goyette said. “It was in the shop at least once a month, and to be honest, I wouldn’t have ridden in it myself. I told the minister who runs the home, Fawn McKnight, that we were going to replace it, and you know what she said? ‘Praise God!’ ”
The 2014 Chevy van that Chapter 1030 delivered to the Veterans Home in November 2019 is emblazoned with the American flag and the VVA logo. It also carries a motto that Chapter 1030 is devoted to carrying out into the world with its scholarships and other programs of service to the community, one that begins with those four unforgettable words: “Freedom is not free.”
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