By Andrea Agardy, Special to The Times
A recently formed organization is inviting Lincoln County-area veterans to join the group.
Formed by Tom Taylor and Bob Eid nearly two years ago, Vietnam Era Veterans meets monthly at the American Legion in Shelbyville.
“In the spring of 2010, I got to thinking about the fact that some of us are starting to die off,” Taylor said, “and I thought, ‘We’ve got to get something started’.”
The group began meeting at a Shelbyville restaurant in June 2010, with the first gathering drawing about 14 veterans, largely through word of mouth. That November, when a Veterans Service officer came to address the group, the crowd had grown to 24 veterans.
“We were packed pretty tight in that restaurant,” Taylor said. “Then, the American Legion offered use of this facility here. It’s great, and there’s the military atmosphere.”
Although there were already a number of veterans’ organizations up and running when Taylor and Eid started their group, they felt it was important for Vietnam era veterans to have a group they could call their own, since their experiences during and after the war were unlike those of other veterans.
Taylor, who served in the Air Force from 1966 through 1970 and again in 1972, said servicemen at that time — whether they had been deployed to Vietnam or not — were often treated terribly by the general public, taunted with cries of “baby killer” or even spat on.
“Vietnam was a political war,” Taylor said, adding the anti-war sentiment that was so prevalent at the time often carried over to how people treated men in uniform.
Eid agreed. “Vietnam was not a popular war. The way vets were treated in public when they came back from the war was appalling. Maybe getting together like this helps the healing process.”
Although the organization is named for the Vietnam era, veterans from any time period and all branches of the military are invited.
“We welcome all veterans,” Taylor said. “I recently had some World War II gentlemen call me, and I told them to come on over. If they need help getting here, we’ll go and get them.”
Taylor said the speakers for each meeting are carefully chosen.
“The speakers are informative about the assistance available to veterans, whatever their needs might be,” he said.
Charles Hobbs, president of the Tennessee State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America, and his wife, Sharon, addressed the group last week.
The topic of each month’s presentation is chosen by the guest speaker, and past presentations have focused on widows’ and veterans’ benefits.
“There’s something new every month,” Taylor said. “Things for veterans change all the time.”
Riley Cook, an Army veteran who served two tours in Vietnam from 1967-1968 and again from 1969-1970, began attending the meetings in Shelbyville several months ago. He likened the experience of meeting with his fellow veterans to catching up with old childhood friends.
“When you share your life for a year or two, you experience and share things, both good and bad,” Cook said. “They say you never really come back, and it’s true. It’s the same for all veterans. It’s something you can sit down and talk about that someone who’s never been in combat will never understand … We learned really quick that no one was going to take care of us but us.”
Cook returned to Vietnam several years ago on a trip organized by Sons and Daughters In Touch, an organization comprised of people whose fathers were killed or remain missing in Vietnam. Cook acknowledged that returning to Vietnam is not a trip every veteran would want to take, and acknowledged he was a bit hesitant to return himself. But, ultimately, his curiosity convinced him to pack his bags.
“For the last 35 years, I’ve been trying to forget this crap. Now, at my age, I’m trying to remember,” he said. “It’s not for everybody to go back, but sometimes it’s a good thing mentally.”
Cook said the country has progressed immensely in the years since the war, citing new buildings, bridges and economic advancements as just a few examples.
“The people of Vietnam area great people,” Cook said. “If it hadn’t been for the war, it was one of the prettiest countries I’ve ever seen. They’re a very forgiving people; they don’t stress on the war.”
Eid said he believes the monthly gatherings of the Vietnam Era Veterans is a positive thing for those who participate.
“It is different for each veteran,” he said. “Some vets don’t want to talk about their experiences; however they may get something of value that they could possibly use — realizing that they aren’t alone and that most of us are going through the same thing.”
For more information on Vietnam Era Veterans, contact Tom Taylor at 684-2557 or Bob Eid at 680-9679.