Pettis County Vietnam veterans will be honored Saturday with a commemorative luncheon hosted by the Osage Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
The Osage Chapter is a partner with the U.S. Department of Defense, Vietnam War Commemorative. The Chapter’s responsibilities of the partnership during 2015 to 2017 include hosting two events or activities a year that will “thank and honor” Vietnam veterans and their families. Although DAR has hosted different veteran-oriented events, this is the second Vietnam veteran luncheon organized by the group.
“Last May we had a big luncheon,” Arthea Wasson, Chapter regent, said. “We had 30 veterans there I think.”
Susan Rouchka, DAR Commemorative Event chairperson, added that last year they invited 100 veterans and this year 300 were invited.
“My list (last year) wasn’t very comprehensive, but this year we had a lot of people like Paul Bennett and Larry Stevenson and different people that are connected to the Vietnam veteran community,” Rouchka said. “We had planned initially to invite every Vietnam veteran in the surrounding communities because we wanted to be inclusive. It’s amazing how many Vietnam veterans are in the surrounding communities.”
Rouchka said they soon realized they couldn’t invite all Vietnam veterans because they didn’t have a facility big enough for the event.
“So, we are going to do it again next year, and hopefully have a better idea of of exactly what that’s going to look like,” she noted. “But, we did invite over 300 Pettis County Vietnam veterans.”
Rouchka said there is a controversy of dates of the beginning and ending of the Vietnam War. The Commemorative Events Operations, United States of America Department of Defense, Vietnam War Commemorative states that they consider the War beginning Oct. 1, 1955, and ending May 15, 1975. All those who served during that period, whether they were overseas or on the homeland, are included in the commemorative events.
“So that means your Korean War veterans, who may not realize they are included in the commemorative partnership invitation,” Rouchka said.
She added that the Commemorative’s time frame was very broad and hoped to include as many veterans as possible.
Rouchka read the Commemorative’s letter that stated “The year 1955 was chosen because in October of 1955 military control transitioned from French to South Vietnamese, thus officially involving the U.S. Military advisory effort.”
This year out of 300 invitations the women are expecting 90 to 120 people. They have room for 180 and are still accepting RSVPs to attend the free event. Helping Rouchka and Wasson this year are DAR members Caroline Miller, Darla Weatherholt and Sarah Shaw.
“Next year we hope to have it at the Celebration Center again if that works well, and maybe we can expand on that,” Rouchka said. “Our partnership lasts for three years.”
The event will feature food and programs. Vietnam War veteran the Rev. Nicholas Gray, pastor of Broadway Baptist Church, will open and close the event with prayer. There will also be a special guest speaker and music by DAR member Mary Frances Herndon.
Those attending may place a name on the Memorial Wreath created by Rouchka.
“Our vision is for them to pin a yellow ribbon on it to memorialize their comrade, friend, neighbor,” she noted. “There’s just something redeeming about that.”
She will also have framed Vietnam Commemorative information displayed on tables at the event for the veterans and their families.
“It’s more of a fellowship for them,” Rouchka added.
“Last year they just really enjoyed visiting,” Wasson said. “I tell you, I never saw a group of people get together to enjoy each other as much as those guys did. They kept telling us how much they appreciated it.”
Last year, Rouchka helped plan the event but was unable to stay due to other commitments.
“But, I had a flood of phone calls, that said ‘I just want you to know I couldn’t find you there, but thank you, thank you, thank you,’” she said. “It was really sweet of them to call and thank us.
Both women expressed sadness at how the Vietnam War veterans were treated when they came home.
“I think it’s going to be a long healing process for some of our guys,” she added.
“It’s never too late to say thank you,” Wasson added.
“… Thank you is never going to be enough,” Rouchka noted. “I think sometimes when people are broken from things in their lives, they find something God-redeeming in that, that’s going to move others forward .. a little nugget of hope.”
The Pettis County Vietnam Veteran Commemorative Luncheon will be hosted from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the UMC Celebration Center, 1701 W. 32nd St. To attend the free event, call Rouchka at 620-4484.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.