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May/June 2022 -   -  

Deeper Family: The National Vietnam War Veterans Day Observance

When Mary Stout returned from her tour as a nurse in Vietnam, she realized almost everyone wanted to stake a position on the war but no one actually wanted to talk about it.

“They would ask me, ‘Should we be there?’ Well, we were there.”

No one seemed interested in hearing about her experiences in Vietnam. So she quietly set that part of her life aside and stopped telling people she had ever been there. For a long time she disassociated herself from her war experiences, and preferred not to let people know about it.

But then, while on USO business, she called the Columbus, Ohio, chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America. As she started her pitch, a voice on the other end said, “When were you there?”

She felt her false front, her pretense, slip away. This voice could feel her experience. And she felt herself coming home. She joined VVA, found pride and camaraderie, and she learned the skills required to be a leader and an activist for her fellow veterans.

Mary Stout, VVA’s second national president, was the keynote speaker at the March 29 Vietnam War Veterans Day ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. She went on to discuss her long association with VVA and the important issues that she and the organization have taken on, including judicial review and Agent Orange.

She had been preceded at the podium by retired Army Gen. George Price, whose fiery oratory had electrified those who had attended VVA’s 2000 Leadership Conference in Buffalo. But this day he gave a quiet invocation, his message calm and gentle as he reminded the audience that “life is a brief one-act play with no rehearsals.” He was followed by his wife, Laura Kafka-Price, who sang the National Anthem.

The Vietnam War Veterans Day ceremony was co-hosted by Vietnam Veterans of America and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, the organization charged with maintaining The Wall. VVMF President and CEO Jim Knotts welcomed the audience and provided a brief history of the event.

In his remarks, VVA President Jack McManus underscored the importance of Vietnam War Veterans Day and welcomed Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough, former Gold Star Mothers President Georgianna Krell, Members of Congress, and all the 75-100 people seated on the eastern knoll facing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

McManus reminded everyone that March 29 marked the 40th anniversary of the groundbreaking for The Wall. He also spoke of other events that VVA will participate in this year, including Father’s Day at The Wall and the 40th anniversary celebration of the dedication of The Wall on Veterans Day.

The Honor Guard of Baltimore Chapter 451, which has had the distinction of presenting the colors at Baltimore Ravens football games, did the honors during this ceremony. Singer-songwriter John Flynn sang two songs, including “Deeper Family,” which he had written for the event. VVA Public Affairs Committee Chair Dennis Howland was the master of ceremonies who listed the accomplishments of each of the program participants.

After McManus, McDonough, Knotts, and AVVA President Sharon Hobbs led a procession that took a wreath to the apex of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, buglers Jari Villanueva and Richard Pasciuto performed the elegiac “Echo Taps.”

Afterward, VVA members and staff, Board members, and state council  presidents boarded a bus that took them to the National Press Club for a reception that mixed good food and drink with reminiscences and plans for the future.

For more on Vietnam War Veterans Day at The Wall, go to https://vva.org/vietnam-war-veterans-day-2022




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Geoffrey Clifford Mark F. Erickson Chuck Forsman