Tulare Vietnam vets holding event to help other vets, troubled kids
(Visalia Times Delta 3-21-2012)
As part of an ongoing campaign to help local war veterans and children in need, veterans who banded together to try to help each other are now reaching out to others Sunday with their third annual Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans celebration in Tulare.
In 2007, about a dozen of veterans from the area formed the Central Valley Vietnam Veterans organization — a nonprofit group that has grown to 80 members, Vice President David Lopez said.
Treated as outcasts when they first returned from the war, many Vietnam veterans struggled for years trying to deal with the psychological impact of that controversial war until a handful formed the organization, Lopez said.
Although the original intention was to help each other with things such as post-traumatic stress disorder, they’ve moved well beyond that goal.
“We’re kind of a unique group. Our issues have not gone away, but we’ve gotten past them,” Lopez said.
He said the organization holds several fundraisers a year, now using the money to help children, donating in particular to organizations dedicated to helping children who are victims of abuse or poverty.
But they also want to reach out to veterans of more recent wars.
“We want to recognize the young people coming back, let them know we recognize the issues they are going through. They’ve become members of a very unique family no one understands except veterans and their families,” Lopez said. “It’s a camaraderie we take to our death. We are brothers and sisters for life. This is something we own, that can’t be taken from us and it is a great healing process for all veterans.”
Veterans of all wars, as well as the general public, are invited to attend Sunday’s day-long USO-type celebration featuring a wide variety of musical and dance entertainment, food vendors, guest speakers and booths with veteran services information.
The group chooses Tulare every year because it believes that community is more veteran-friendly, says former board member Leland Castro.
“We get a lot of support from the community, City Council, the school district, and local businesses and others. Visalia doesn’t have the same type of facility as they do in Tulare with their Veteran’s Park we use for events,” Castro added.
The event is in recognition of national Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day, which falls on March 30.
The Central Valley Vietnam Veterans organization has no ties to other organizations.
“We’re kind of a unique group. The only requirement is that they were in service during the Vietnam era, about 1959 to 1973; whether or not they were in actual combat,” Lopez said.
“When the last [member] is gone, we will be no more,” he said.