May 4, 2017
By David Nordby
The Brillion News
BRILLION – History was in session last Wednesday at Brillion High School. The junior and senior classes, and teachers, spent time with the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 351 from Appleton.
Chapter president, and Brillion resident, Larry Cavanaugh brought six veterans with him to teach the students about a time difficult for younger generations to relate to, but the students were attentive during the hour plus long meeting.
The veterans shared stories in front of impressive display cases that the chapter brings to multiple schools throughout the state each year. The veterans later formally introduced themselves individually in a presentation, before taking questions from the student audience.
“It was living life on the edge,” one veteran told a group of students while explaining the gear and weapons used during that time.
The Selective Service System of the United States held draft lotteries that changed the lives of millions of Americans. Many died and thousands are still living severely disabled.
Cavanaugh said the numbers of men were haunting for those that followed the war, and those who lived through it.
“Until we pass away, we too are haunted by the numbers,” Cavanaugh said.
Many of the stories told at the school were filled with pain, each step of the way through their personal journeys.
“That’s probably the biggest April fools joke anyone ever played on me, or will play on me,” one veteran said, remembering leaving for service on April 1.
The veterans told the students what it was like to witness their brothers – as the veterans still describe them – dying in front of them. The chapter told the students they hope today’s young men and women never have to experience what they did in the early 1970’s.
Wars don’t end for many soldiers when they return home. 7,200 veterans kill themselves each year, one member of the chapter pointed out. The chapter meets with young returning members currently from Afghanistan and other areas, when they’re able to.
Returning from service wasn’t all about the terror from the enemy overseas either after the Vietnam War. One veteran shared a tale of having an interaction with a rat, as large as a dog, while in service. Once he was home, he woke up numerous times in the middle of the night choking his wife, as he had dreams a rat was attacking him. Eventually, a counselor told him to cut the head off of a stuffed animal rat. Much to his pleasant surprise he never had another inadvertent attack on his wife.
While Cavanaugh said he felt like a king while in bars back in the United States, returning from the war wasn’t so positive for others.
One speaker passionately told the students how a kid at an airport kicked him, as his parents encouraged the young boy. Other instances included having spit hurled at him, sworn at and encouraged not to put his military history on job applications.
“That was my welcome home, folks,” the veteran said.
Another told the story of how an airport bar emptied out when veterans came in for a drink.
Many of the societal issues facing the country at the time, are still mirrored in today’s society, including celebrity and media impact.
“Everyone turned against the war … All of the college campuses erupted,” the veterans explained. “The whole family gathered around the television to watch Walter Cronkite give the evening news. Everything was about the body count.”
Actors and actresses spoke out against the war and influenced the masses. The chapter remembered Jane Fonda helping to lead the charge.
Please see the complete story in the May 4, 2017 edition of The Brillion News.