CALHOUN COUNTY, Mich. – This year marks 40 years since the Vietnam War’s end, as we remember more than 58,000 Americans who gave their lives.
Of the Vietnam veterans who returned home, many were shunned. It was left up to them to create a sense of normalcy in their lives.
Years, if not decades, went by before many Vietnam veterans were thanked for their service or before their time in Southeast Asia was truly understood.
FOX 17 met one group of Vietnam veterans who founded their own support network: the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 313. Each member has a different story. They're of different ages, have different service times and ranks, even different hardships.
Their stories can silence a room.
“I’m lucky compared to some of them,” said Fred Palmiter, USAF Veteran, VVA Chapter 313 member.
Yet when they get together for dinner and a meeting, the last Thursday of every month, silence only comes during bites of food. It’s here they take time to simply enjoy themselves and appreciate their service.
Robert Vaxter joined the chapter in 1992. He is a leader in the group and served in the Marine Corp in Vietnam during ’68 and ’69.
“A lot of it is the camaraderie,” said Vaxter. “These guys, I don’t have to talk to them about my experiences because, depending on what they did, they went through all the same stuff.”
Vaxter said one of the biggest things the VVA has done is thank veterans for their service the moment they step off a plane.
“Most of us, when we came back, we were either ignored completely or in some cases people were spit on or had things thrown at them,” said Vaxter.
“A lot of people were told not to wear their uniform when you came home ‘cause you’d get in too much trouble for it.”
“It’s a great help, just being together like we are,” said Floyd Carmichael, VVA Chapter 313 member.
Carmichael is also a leader in the chapter, as well as a volunteer at the Fort Custer National Cemetery.
“There’s numbers and numbers and numbers of suicides every day that result from post traumatic stress disorder,” Carmichael said.
He urges veterans to reach out for help or become a part of something like Chapter 313.
“Don’t be so proud that you’re just going to stand up and say I’m fine,” said Carmichael. “You’re not admitting defeat by going out there and saying, I need help.”
Until they meet next, these veterans hang on to moments like these together, laughing, and staying united no matter their service.
“I may pick on a Marine, or he may pick on me as being in the Air Force, but don’t pick on one of us if you aren’t nothing, because we’re going to both jump on you,” Carmichael said, laughing.
“We’re going to lock arms.”
Another important part of VVA Chapter 313 is their service to the community, including volunteering at the annual Calhoun County Fair.
Chapter 313 is always looking for new member veterans, regardless of when you served.
If you are curious and would like to reach out, you may contact VVA Chapter 313 through their website, call (269) 979-4803, or email Vietvet1@aol.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To all veterans, thank you for your service.