Photo by Susan Varcie – Kimberly Reed (my daughter), myself, and Dr. David M. Walker, Medical Center Director for the G. V. (Sonny) Montgomery VA Medical Center in Jackson, MS.

by Dave Warner, MSGT USAF, Retired

This year, a lot of attention is being focused on the Vietnam War commemoration, and I had the rare opportunity last week to be a part of two different ceremonies all within 48 hours of each other. One in New York, and the other in Jackson Mississippi.

The Little Falls Rotary, as a Commemorative Partner, did a fantastic job honoring the 68 Vietnam Veterans that showed up for the ceremony at the Elks Club, myself included. I know that all of the Veterans there really appreciated the effort that they put into the event.

As soon as that was over, I was able to get a few hours sleep and then head to Syracuse to leave on an early morning flight into Memphis, where my daughter Kimberly picked me up and then drove me to Jackson.

The main event was supposed to be my grandson’s homecoming football game and dance that day. But, my daughter had an ulterior motive. You see, she works for the VA in Jackson and has been bugging me for years to apply for benefits related to exposure to agent orange and other service-related issues.

I’ve been fighting doing it for years, but she had me as a prisoner for 48 hours and she was determined to sit me down in front of the right people in the VA – which she did immediately upon making that three-hour drive from the airport to where she worked.

I’d never been in a VA facility before, and all I had heard was what we all do about the VA – how broken it is, how the Vets are not getting the treatment they need…on and on.

The afternoon was spent filling out some paperwork and meeting some great people that worked in, around, and with my daughter.

Larry, who was assisting me with filling out those forms and asking me a stream of continuous questions, asked me if I had PTSD. I told him that I didn’t think so, but that if he continued with any more questions, it might manifest itself. He made the process easy and fun, with lots of humor.

Then, it was off to the homecoming game, were I pretty much froze to death – believing that since I was going south, I really didn’t need to dress for cold weather and rain. That was a mistake, as many pictures showed, which my daughter had no problem posting to Facebook in an almost continuous stream.

The next morning, Kimberly said there were a couple of ceremonies that she wanted me to attend. Of course, she was a bit vague about them both. But, as soon as I arrived, I was paraded into the middle of the center’s staff meeting where everything came to a stop. Medical Center Director, Dr. David M. Walker said, “When a Veteran walks in, we stop everything we are doing and give them the recognition they deserve.”

They then proceeded to pin me with a Vietnam Commemorative pin and presented me with a framed picture of my bronze star citation and a photo of it being awarded to me back in 1974.

It was totally unexpected and really nice. Thank you, Kimberly, and thank you, Dr. Walker.

Right after that, there was another ceremony, where they were recognizing seven amazing Veterans for their Wall of Honor Program. These were some true heroes. Edward Lee Bruton, Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and Edward Lee Gilliard, Silver Star, Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart, just two of those who were honored.

The event had a children’s choir, honor guard, speeches and the works. And, as I sat there, I realized that whether you were in New York, or Mississippi, North, South, East or West, people were making a real attempt to make time for our Veterans, whether it was World War II, Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan.

Right after that ceremony, they hosted a luncheon for the honorees, where they had Zach Bridges, a contestant on this season’s The Voice, but also an X-Ray technician at the VA Center in Jackson. He said, “I come in each day and do everything from chest x-rays to broken ankles. We even go into surgery and do some fluoroscopy studies.”

The amazing thing about Zach was not that he was on The Voice, but that he used that platform to bring awareness to the needs of Veterans while on the show. “They actually came here to the VA in Jackson and filmed me doing some of my daily routine. It was really cool for them to come. I think they really liked the fact that I worked for the VA and for the Veterans. For me, it was cool for them to come and let me shine a good light on the VA.”

Photo by Dave Warner – Zach Bridges (left), an X-Ray Tech at the VA Center in Jackson MS and recent contestant on NBC’s The Voice, plays with VA Medical Center Director Dr. David M. Walker.

Speaking with Zach and listening to how he used his time to bring attention to Veterans made me think about the show that we’re doing right here in Little Falls, hosted by Ralph Renzulli.

Ralph is spending considerable time to contact, interview and allow us to film the 133 Vietnam Veterans from our home town that served in the war so that their stories can get out on his show Through My Eyes.

It really was incredible to think about. From the people at the Rotary Club in Little Falls to the Jackson VA facility, where there are over 1,800 people working, to Ralph Renzulli and his show. I’ve witnessed truly caring individuals, who are doing the best they can to bring attention to those who have served.

In Jackson, that attitude permeated all the way from the security guards at the front desk to the Medical Center Director, Dr. David M. Walker, who gave me his card and told me that if I had any issues at all, even in New York, that I was to give him a call.

I thought about that a lot on the flight home – the two ceremonies, Ralph’s show and what we as a nation are trying to do right now. Not just for our Veterans, but in particular this year, the Vietnam Veterans and all I could think of was “Welcome Home.”