On July 11th of 2006 we were in Branson, MO for their Welcome Home celebration for Viet Nam Veterans. This welcome home was a long time coming for these veterans; many had NEVER heard these words from others. At that time our nation did not welcome home those who served with parades and celebrations. Most of those who came home would even "hide" the fact that they had even been in that war...that place.
All through the long week end...this band of brothers greeted each other with "Welcome Home", as well as tears and hugs. It was an emotional time for all who were there. AND a healing time as well.
One of the moving Wall memorials had been set up and it was one of the gathering places for those who were attending this event. Some had never been able to get to Washington DC to see the Wall. Some because they just couldn't face it...face the ghosts and memories of those lost. Ed always wants to take time to visit those he knew whenever we are anywhere close to one of these moving tributes. He has a nephew and many friends etched into those black panels and always takes the time to stop and let them know he will never forget them. We met a Gold Star mother who had come to this event to honor her son.
She had brought a large picture of her son and placed it lovingly each morning at the bottom of the panel with his name; then picked it up each evening. We listened as she told us about her son and how he had been killed. She gave us her email address and we still keep in touch with her from time to time.
As we were wandering around we met a Navy Corpsman, Doc Storm and his wife. There was an immediate connection between Ed and Doc and we spent a great deal of time with them throughout the week end. AND we still see them each year in November in Branson for Veterans week. In our travels we have gotten to know several corpsmen...AND many have become close friends...
wanting to keep in touch with Ed. (He and I were discussing this and a thought came to me...perhaps they see in you one survived...one of the boys they had to throw on a helicopter not knowing if he would live or die...never knowing. AND here you are...one who made it...who did survive!)
Near the Wall there were many tents set up for the vendors and much to browse through. At one booth we met two ladies who would change our lives forever!
Joyce Faulkner and Pat Avery from Red Engine Press were there to encourage veterans to tell their stories so they would not be lost. Ed had been working on writing his story for about 10 years and had for some reason even brought a copy of his work with us. He decided to give it to Joyce.
One of the highlights was the outdoor concert that had been arranged for us just outside of Branson. What a day we had! We were entertained by several of the bands from those years...back when we were young and lived through those troubled times. Doc and I proved that even at our age we could still do the twist! The music and entertainers took us back. Some memories were good...I had good memories of being a USO (United Service Organization) hostess at the Oakland, California club and visiting the Oakland Naval hospital where I met Ed! Some memories were hard...for those who had been in Vietnam and had their lives changed forever. But all those we talked with were glad they had come...glad to be with those who understood them and finally feel that they were actually "Welcomed Home!"
Tony Orlando was there along with the many groups and bands from that time. When Ann Margaret came on stage she got a very unexpected surprise. There was a man in the crowd who had brought a newspaper article with her picture from the time she had made an appearance in country where he was! She couldn't believe he'd kept it all these years! Many of us have kept our "reminders"; I still have some of the letters that I received from those servicemen that I wrote to during that time.
When Mr "Good Morning Vietnam" came on it also brought memories back to those who had listened to him on the radio long ago. He admitted that he did not do all of the things his character in the movie did, telling us "I would never have gotten away with all of those things!"
At the end of the day we were treated to a beautiful display of fireworks. What a way to end this eventful day! We were almost sad that the week end had come to an end. Thank you Branson for a much needed Welcome Home! One we will never forget.
For those of you who have never been to Branson in November for their Veterans Week...GO! I cannot begin to put into words how good it feels to be in a place...AN ENTIRE TOWN...that welcomes ALL veterans and treats them royally. We attend every year...in fact, last September when Ed was told he needed to have by-pass surgery his first question to his doctor was "Will I be able to go to Branson in November?" (We did get there) If you go, look for us there and be sure to say hello. You can visit their web site and see what will be going on this year. http://www.bransonveterans.com/
AND now THE REST OF THE STORY!
About a week after returning home Ed got a phone call from Joyce telling him that she felt his was a story that truly needed to be published...by November, just in time for Veterans Week Ed had his book Lucky Enough. And our lives have not been the same since then!