Once a month, veterans of all wars gather at a Middletown church for Veterans Social Command. It gives them an opportunity to share their war experiences and exchange information about veteran benefits. Its motto: Veterans Helping Veterans. The group has more than 230 members and is growing, organizers said.
One of those organizers, Dennis Kearns, 68, served in the U.S. Army from 1969-70. He remembers coming home after the Vietnam War. At the time, unlike today, veterans were disrespected, Kearns said.
“Vietnam veterans stayed in the background,” he said. “We were treated so poorly, what happened over there, we kept it in the back of our minds. World War II and Korean veterans had it too but they came home to ticker tape parades. We came back to rotten fruit, tomatoes, whatever thrown at us. Spit on us. Demonstrated against us. That kept us down.”
Those who fought in Vietnam had a lack of trust for politicians and their officers, Kearns said. Now, he said, soldiers have the support of the country and are better trained.
When asked if he would return to combat, Kearns said: “Why not? If it was asked of us, half of the guys in there would say, ‘Take me.’ We’re patriotic. We always have been, always will be.”
Keith Becker of Hamilton’s American Legion Post 138 served as a corporal with the Marines in Vietnam from 1966 to 1968, around the height of the conflict. He can empathize with today’s deployed service people.
“I would think being a young veteran today, with a family here and being overseas, would be extremely difficult, just as it always has been,” Becker said.
Also, he said, “People today don’t even realize we’re in a war. And because of that, there probably aren’t near as many support groups around as there were in other wars.”
Disabled American Veterans National Communications Director Dan Clare said the agency was founded in Cincinnati in 1920 and it has “tirelessly advocated for ill and injured veterans and their families ever since.”
However, he said, much remains to be done.
“As the burden of nearly 16 years of war remains on the shoulders of the very few, the needs of the veteran community are steadily increasing,” Clare said. “The public wants to support veterans and honor those who’ve paid the ultimate sacrifice. However, they aren’t experiencing the war as we did in the past. The sacrifice is being borne by their survivors, military members, veterans and their families.”
Clare encouraged supporters “to get involved in advancing the cause of our heroes.”
He said there are volunteer opportunities in the transportation network and at local VA medical facilities. He said the DAV continues to advocate for the hiring of veterans and, in particular, disabled veterans, with the goal of seeing 10,000 disabled veterans gain meaningful employment by 2018.