If you’re reading this column, please thank a veteran for making it possible. Since our country’s founding nearly 250 years ago, our veterans have fought to protect and defend all our rights, including freedom of speech, at home and abroad. Some veterans, including those who served in the Vietnam War, are still fighting painful memories of the conflict and a less-than-welcoming welcome home.
But a group of Massachusetts veterans is trying to do something to change that. Veterans Assisting Veterans (VAV), a Lowell-based nonprofit group founded by area veterans to help fellow veterans, wants to send local Vietnam veterans to see the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.
VAV is raising money to pay for 50 veterans to visit our nation’s capital for a weekend trip next fall to see the memorial, a massive wall of black granite slabs engraved with the names of more than 58,000 Americans who were killed or remain missing. The trip, called “On Track to the Wall,” will include a train ticket, lodging and food, so that each veteran can participate without having to pay a penny.
The trek to Washington, D.C. is designed to serve as a healing experience for the vets who deserved but didn’t get a proper welcome home back then, according the VAV Spokesman John MacDonald.
“We’re going to ask people to gather outside and cheer for our Vietnam veterans when the train passes by,” MacDonald said. “The veterans didn’t get the proper welcome home before, but we want them to get it now.”
MacDonald pointed out the heavy toll the Vietnam War took on our country and on the generation of men and women who mostly didn’t ask to go to war, but who did so in support of our nation.
“The Vietnam War wasn’t supported by the public and the men and women in uniform returning to America took the brunt of our nation’s anger toward our government,” MacDonald added. “Our Vietnam veterans didn’t feel appreciated and they’ve suffered from that rejection. This trip is an opportunity to give these veterans the reception that they should have gotten originally.”
Rick Green, co-owner of Westford-based 1A Auto, is the honorary chair of the trip for the Vietnam vets. Green’s father was based in Thailand during the Vietnam War.
One of the veterans who hopes to be able to make the trip to the memorial is Bobby Fairbairn. Fairbairn served four years in the U.S. Army as a Staff Sargent during the Vietnam War and experienced some of the fiercest and most deadly battles. In the Battle of Dak To, for example, 199 of his men were killed, including PFC John Barnes of Dedham. Barnes threw himself on a grenade, saving Fairbairn’s life, and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.
Like many Vietnam veterans, Fairbairn suffers from PTSD, cancer and other ailments related to his service to our country. Like many Vietnam veterans, despite those circumstances, he is committed to honoring those who didn’t make it home and to helping those who did.
“The visions of those days in Vietnam and the pain that comes along with it is still fresh and raw for so many men and women of Bobby’s generation,” MacDonald said. “Sending 50 of these deserving souls to the Vietnam War Memorial is the least Veterans Assisting Veterans and all of us can do to show our gratitude for their sacrifices on our behalf.”
To get more information about Veterans Assisting Veterans or make an online donation, visit the group’s website at VetsAssistingVets.org. The group will also soon be launching a GoFundMe page specifically to raise funds for the trip.
Each Veterans’ Day, consider donating to this worthy cause as a way to honor and thank those who have served our nation in the Vietnam War. Late is truly better than never.
Brian Genest is chairman of the Dracut Republican Town Committee and a member of the Massachusetts Republican State Committee representing the Second Essex & Middlesex District of Andover, Dracut, Lawrence and Tewksbury. ◊