Carlsbad, CA … There was not an empty seat or, at times, a dry eye in the house at Veterans Association of North County’s (VANC’s) spacious Oceanside facility on March 30, 2018 when Hospice of the North Coast (HNC), in collaboration with VANC, presented its inaugural “Welcome Home, Vietnam Veterans” Celebration. The 325+ people in attendance declared the highly anticipated event a resounding success!
After beginning to return to America one-half century ago often to jeers instead of cheers, on this day Southern California vets from diverse military branches finally received their “parade” as they entered the facility, many with the assistance of canes, walkers and wheelchairs, on a flag-bedecked red carpet. They were greeted by a band, a cheerful “Welcome Home” banner, the warm applause of guests, including local politicians, and salutes from fellow servicemen and women.
Handshakes and hugs abounded among the maturing vets, several of whom were proudly arrayed in service-related attire. Medals, mementoes and memories, some painful, were displayed and shared. As a particularly powerful and poignant reminder of the valiantly-fought, controversial conflict in a distant land, a special table with an empty chair represented Americans who did not return home alive from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard as well as civilians. Several veterans groups offered resource booths.
HNC Executive Director Sharon Lutz and VANC official John Stryker Meyer spoke with passion about their personal experiences with the Vietnam War. Confiding that her brother-in-law returned home but later died at age 42 from renal cell cancer “most likely caused by Agent Orange,” Lutz told the gathered vets, “Our hearts are filled with gratitude for all you’ve given.”
The event’s highlight was a compelling keynote presentation by retired, highly decorated Marine Corps Brigadier General David M. Brahms, who served with the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing in Da Nang and who has been a staunch advocate for veterans. He delivered an encouraging message of self-acceptance to Vietnam vets, leading them in a chorus of “I am proud of who I am and what I did” that promoted emotional bonding and intense reflection upon their lives. While bringing truth and recognition to the day, Brigadier General Brahms enlivened his presentation with a surprise “striptease,” light-heartedly shedding his suit jacket, dress shirt and tie to reveal a “Good Morning, Vietnam!” t-shirt. The crowd went wild, making the celebration even more memorable.
HNC’s Director of Philanthropy Shelly Dew, an instrumental organizer of this first “Welcome Home, Vietnam Veterans” Celebration, expressed her appreciation to co-host VANC. She said, “After the Standing Room Only success of this event, and hugely positive response we received from vets, their families and the community, our biggest challenge next year will be finding a space large enough to hold our valued attendees!”
HNC wants all veterans and their families to know they can rely upon Hospice of the North Coast for veteran-centric programs and support. As a national We Honor Veterans (WHV) organization partner, HNC guides vets to appropriate services and resources as it accompanies them on their path toward a peaceful ending.
HNC Board President Ray Patchett believes, “This heartwarming commemoration was especially significant as Vietnam veterans begin to move toward the latter stages of their life’s journey. While serving everyone is HNC’s mission, it is particularly rewarding to serve our esteemed veterans.”
Nonprofit Hospice of the North Coast was established in 1980 to fill the need for comprehensive, compassionate hospice care in North County San Diego. Since its inception, it has grown in services that include global partner Nkhoma Palliative Care in Malawi, a resale store in Encinitas, Pathways Palliative Care, Hope Bereavement Center and Pacifica House, the only in-patient acute symptom management facility in North County. For more information, visit www.hospicenorthcoast.org