My Last Mission
My Last Mission: A Veteran Shares What Gilchrist’s We Honor Veterans Day Celebration Means to Him
I attended the first Gilchrist Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day Celebration on March 30, 2018. Lingering in my car in the parking lot, I conjured numerous excuses not to go inside. I had no desire to reawaken those memories of 13 months in Vietnam that took 50 years to suppress. Still, something pulled me in.
Reluctantly, I approached Martin’s West and experienced a ceremony that opened my eyes and my heart. The first thing I saw was a large group of men and women in uniform and civilian clothes who greeted me with “Welcome home” and “Thank you for your service.” That initial greeting convinced me that attending was the right choice. Gilchrist then provided an experience I didn’t want to end.
After several hours of inspirational music, salutes, distinguished speakers and talking with new friends, I returned to my car with a renewed sense of hope. What a feeling! I was no longer alone! I began to realize that the healing I thought was complete hadn’t started until that day. All of those dreadful memories that had been locked up for so long could now be recognized.
Just the Beginning
That Vietnam Veterans Day Celebration was just the beginning of a new and fulfilling journey. I was excited to hear that the celebration would become an annual event, and I returned the next year. Several months later, I spoke with a person from Gilchrist who asked if I was interested in volunteering with the “We Honor Veterans” program. She described the veterans task force that oversees all of Gilchrist’s veterans programs and suggested I become a member. I was humbled that I would be among such a group of distinguished business and community leaders.
As I listened to her proposal, my mind flashed back to a traumatic event. I experienced mixed emotions of relief and joy that subtly turned to grief. I visualized climbing the stairs to the door of an airplane at Bien Hoa Air Base, March 1969. At the time, I was thinking, Thank God I made it through a traumatic 13 months of war. My prayers and hopes had come to fruition. I was going home!
I stared out the plane window to see a group of my buddies waving goodbye. I started to feel confused and even heartbroken. How could I go home to safety and leave them behind, never knowing if they would ever get to feel the same elation? I carried that dump truck full of regret for almost 50 years, never expecting to find the means to unload it.
My Final Mission
Today, I am a member of the Gilchrist We Honor Veterans Task Force, which oversees the annual celebrations and other programs that serve veterans. Several teams of volunteers provide “Salute to Service” tributes, in uniforms, to veterans receiving hospice care at various locations. The goal is to honor the heroes who sacrificed and gave so much for our country.
For special occasions such as Veterans Day and Memorial Day, we provide programs for veterans who reside in nursing homes, senior living facilities and assisted living. Through the Vet-to-Vet program, we maintain weekly phone contact with homebound veterans who need someone to talk to.
We also host ‘Veteran Cafes,’ where a small group of veteran volunteers meet with veterans residing in nursing or assisted living facilities to listen to their military experiences or just talk about anything on their minds.
All of these programs provide opportunities to interact with other veterans. They benefit not only those remarkable men and women but also the volunteers. The honor and privilege to meet and talk to these veterans inspires us. The gratitude we receive from them is sometimes overwhelming and always rewarding.
I am proud to now be able to serve other veterans. That is the driving force behind my involvement with Gilchrist and the We Honor Veterans program. I wanted to give veterans something in honor of more than 58,000 names on the wall who were never able to feel the same exhilaration of coming home. What a blessing and unexpected way for me to complete my final mission.
The 2022 Gilchrist Welcome Home Veterans Day Celebration is scheduled for Sunday, March 20, 2022, from 12:00–1:30 p.m. It will be held in-person at Martin’s West and live-streamed. Our guest speaker will be Commander Porter Halyburton, U.S. Navy POW in Vietnam from 1965–1973.
For details and to register, visit gilchristcares.org/welcome-home-celebration.
To support our work, visit gilchristcares.org/give.