CA Central Coast Chapter of VVAW: Something New Pays Off
By Carolyn Crandall
The California Central Coast Chapter of VVAW staffed two booths at Street Fairs in Camarillo and Ventura, CA this summer. The first event was in the city of Ventura at their 4th of July Street Fair and the second one was the following weekend in Camarillo at their Fiesta Days celebration. In our third year at both of these events we wanted to do something different.
We put our heads together and came up with the idea of putting a map of Vietnam at the time the war was being waged in the booth. A good friend of ours who owns a print shop enlarged the map so the cities and areas were clearly visible. The guys propped it up on an easel, bought some pushpins in colors to represent the different branches of the military and began the task of encouraging passing veterans to come in and put the pin on the map where they were stationed. It was actually pretty easy to identify the veterans: Vietnam hats, gray beards, crinkles around the eyes and pot bellies. We didn't know how this would be received. To our amazement, it was the most popular item at our booth. There were some veterans who were hesitant at first, but after realizing that they were not alone and that they were welcomed in by our veterans; Steve, Jack and Carl, the discussions and conversations that ensued were most rewarding. There was laughter and sharing of stories and hugs and lots of shaking hands and big pats on the back.
What a shame that it was war that brought them all together; men who had never met, but left the booth feeling like they had met old friends.
We also put up posters describing PTSD and the suicides that are occurring today. Many people stopped to read the posters and we were surprised at how many had no idea about either condition. That's right, no idea. Some had never even heard of PTSD. To say that our population is not educated about these wars is an understatement.
Another idea that was floated by our members was to create a postcard with brief descriptions of the effects of war and address it to President Obama, asking him for his help in making sure our veterans get the help they need. We included a line for personal comments, and then offered to mail them off for the individuals or give them the postcard to mail themselves. Again, we were amazed at how many people participated in this exercise. Most let us mail them on their behalf. We drafted a letter to the President and mailed them off a few weeks after the events. Unfortunately, as of this writing, we have not received a response from the White House. He probably has a pretty full plate at this time.
At the booths we included flyers with descriptions of Agent Orange, PTSD, Stop Loss Orders and TBI, brochures from IVAW, VVAW, The Soldiers Project, Evan Ashcraft Foundation, and Veterans United for Truth. We also had our VVAW buttons,
t-shirts, hats and peace stickers. The peace stickers were very popular, especially with the kids. On one side of our canopy we pinned up hand written posters talking about suicide and PTSD. The hand written posters seem to draw more attention then professionally printed posters.
Jim and Jane Bright (Jane is a Gold Star Mother) whose son was killed in 2003 in Iraq joined us at the booths. The Brights have started a foundation to bring awareness to the costs of war in their son's name: Evan Ashcraft Foundation. They bring another perspective on the broader issues and the cost of war and are a welcome addition to our group.
We met a woman whose mother is Vietnamese and her father an American soldier whom she never met. She spoke gently and kindly about him and wished she could have known him. She had a beautiful and kind way about her and thanked us for our efforts in bringing attention to the atrocities of war.
A veteran who couldn't talk to us allowed his daughter to speak with us. She told us that still to this day he cannot talk about his experience in Vietnam so she really doesn't know what happened.
An Iraq vet stopped by and told us he was about to deploy for his 7th tour, that's correct, 7 tours. He would be sent home for two or three months, then back to Iraq for 8 to 10 months and so on. He didn't know how long he would be gone this time.
Sometimes all it takes is one piece of familiarity, like the map of Vietnam, and you can bring old veterans together again.
Carolyn Crandall is a member of the California Central Coast Chapter of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.