Freedom Beat Across America: In Search of America's Heartbeat

Archive for the tag “viet nam”

Another Broad Heard From!

This is not exactly a guest blog.  This is Dottie finally finding out where she stashed the journal she kept on our trip across the country.  We enjoyed revisiting our trip and thought you might also.

Well, hello Dottie! You're lookin' swell, Dottie

(The words are hers.  Any mistakes in transcription are mine)

August 4, 2011
We started out at a Verizon store, replacing my phone that seemed to have vanished. I think the “minutemen” and their quality control were off. [Does that date us? Anybody else remember the “Minutemen” episode of Twilight Zone?] I am willing to bet that it will turn up sometime along the way. [Never did!]

Too many . . . too many

Next we ventured to the Santa Fe National Cemetery. Found out several things. One: after 9/11, it is evident that anything that is related to “National” ownership, i.e. the people, has more constrictions for the sake of security and the privacy of, say family visiting a grave. We hadn’t known that before we could get pictures and film footage, we needed permission. Not knowing this and not seeing any posted restrictions, we proceeded to the gravesites with our cameras and were promptly interrupted by cemetery security. A trip to the Administrator’s office, a bit of explaining and some paperwork, and we were on our way again.

A bit fuzzy. The camera person was weepy.

Next stop, Angel Fire, NM. We wanted to go to the Viet Nam memorial there. The only one in America dedicated solely to Viet Nam, it started as a privately-owned shrine for a lost son. It now belongs to the people of the United States. [Actually, it’s a New Mexico State Park now, but why quibble?] It was a bit of a chore driving-wise to get there, but well worth it. A visit there will bring some tears of remembrance and an education to those grandchildren of the ones that lived it.
Next was Eagle Nest where we visited a quaint restaurant and got to visit a 1920’s brothel. The building was built from stolen railroad ties and even though the beds are gone, some of the original “fixins” are still there, including the original wallpaper. And it is reported to be haunted.
We then pushed on into Raton to spend the night. [After a quick dip into Colorado]  We hope to make it to Oklahoma City tomorrow to meet up with Don Papin, Oklahoma Captain of the Patriot Guard.


Quilts of Valor

This week I discovered the local chapter of Quilts of Valor. They meet in the back of the Quilter’s Coop in Temecula, California, every Friday of the year, unless something like Temecula’s Rod Run makes it difficult.
Norma Enfield and Beverly Packard were making quilts for years and sending them to Camp Pendleton but they felt a little lost because they really never got any feedback. Norma discovered the organization Quilts of Valor  in 2008, and realized at that time there were very few chapters in California. She decided to concentrate on veterans and their families, and started QOVFTemecula. At first they met at Quilters Coop at the old location . Three years ago they followed the store when they moved to Old Town Front Street, at the corner of Third Street. “We are so relieved to not have to carry our sewing machines upstairs every week!”

A new pattern!

Norma keeps a record of each quilt given away in a scrapbook binder. There are presently around thirty veterans on the waiting list to receive a quilt of their own. Living WWII vets get moved to the head of the line. To get a vet on the waiting list, pick up a form at the Quilters Coop or from any of the lady volunteers and fill it out with full name of the vet, branch of service, last job title/rank, deployment (Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, or here at home), whether wounded, dates of service, and who to notify when quilt is ready for pick-up. This local chapter requires a photo of the service person in uniform, which goes with the picture of the quilt in the chapter’s scrapbook, but this information is private and will not be shared with others. Some of the info will be put on the label on the back of the quilt.

Anyone is welcome to drop by, and if you can’t or don’t sew, you can iron pieces, sort fabric and help in many other ways. On a side shelf there is a box of squares with a blank white center on which anyone can write a message to the veterans, from a simple “Thank You” to a long tribute. A tribute can name a particular veteran, or be to all service members. You can sign your tribute or leave it as coming from all Americans. These squares are incorporated into a specific finished quilt.
Beverly Packard comes from Fallbrook every Friday. Others drive in from such places as Hemet, Murrieta, Corona and Nuevo.  In 2011, the group made 139 baby, child and teenager quilts, and 151 adult quilts. All the women bring their own sewing machines. Norma takes the fabrics that are donated, sorts them out and assigns projects. They make blocks and see if there are colors missing or needed, and then they go shopping. What a convenience sewing in the back of a nice large quilt shop! The group keeps multiple three-ring binders containing patterns that they’ve developed. They are always looking for more.
Some of the women put together squares (or blocks) in the store on Fridays. Kathleen started as a presser and is now learning to sew. Beverly Packard mostly does bindings on the finished quilts “because I’m fast and the others tend to get stressed out on them”. Some people pick up “star kits” and take them home to work on in their own spare time. Beverly told me she kept making “stars”, figuring she’d piled up enough to keep busy, and then the next Friday she’d come in and find them all gone. She couldn’t figure out where they were disappearing to, until she realized women were coming in during the week and taking “stars” home to work on and bring back finished.

Norma says that their biggest bottleneck is the actual quilting – the sewing of the three layers together, top, batting, and backing. Some of the baby, and children quilts can be done on a regular sewing machine, but the larger adult quilts need a quilting machine, which is quite large and can take up a whole car space in a garage.  “If we could find more machine quilters, we could pass out more quilts!” So not only can they use help with piecing blocks and tops, but desperately need more machine quilters to quilt the three layers together. The group provides everything the quilter needs to quilt the quilt. They provide their own thread and skills to machine-quilt each adult quilt.
Baby, children and teenager quilts are turned over to the project coordinator of Project Linus in San Diego who makes sure that this local chapter’s quilts go to the children of veterans who are staying at Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego.
Most of the ladies have their own reasons for participating in this group. Norma says that she is too old to join the military, but she can make them quilts! “There is just tremendous personal rewards in making a Veteran feel like his time in the service really meant something. This is our way of showing them that we care and want to give them some handmade love to wrap themselves up in. Every single thank-you note is kept in the group’s notebooks.”

Reminds me of my grandmother's machine

Philomina has been coming for three months and works on a 1951 Centennial Singer model. She came to the US as a teenager from Portugal and when she graduated from high school, she was all set to become an airline stewardess so she could see the world. The problem was, in those days airlines had strict criteria for their “girls”. For one thing, you had to be 5-foot two inches, and Nina was only 5-foot, one and a half inches! So instead, she joined the US Marines and saw the world that way (after foot-blistering boot camp at Perris Island).
Kathy Turley was an Air Force service member for almost fifteen years. She is a Vietnam era veteran, but women didn’t go to Vietnam when she was in. Like the others, she has stories to tell. For instance: right away she was taught to march in formation, and then right after that, she was expected to attend a class on how to “walk like a lady”! However, her group got called up for duty at the last minute. “So,” she says, “I never did learn how to walk like a lady!”
Teresa Ontiveros is not a veteran, at least not a veteran of formal service. Instead, she walked for two days and three nights to enter the United States from Mexico. She learned English and learned to drive so she could hold down a job. In Mexico, she was a teacher, but when she entered the US, she could only be certified as having a high school education. So she went to the University of California to become a certified teacher. She is now a citizen and visibly proud to be an American. “I’m free,” she said. “I have a wonderful life and I don’t have to be afraid anymore. Making these quilts is my way to give back to the guys who make this country what it is.”
The group gladly accepts donations of good quality cotton fabric, red, white, tan, cream and blues. Any bright, colorful, children’s novelty cotton fabric is also appreciated. All monetary donations are tax deductible as this is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization.
So come in to the Quilter’s Coop at 28677 Old Town Front Street on Fridays from ten A.M. until around two in the afternoon. Ask questions, check out their work, help out, donate, pick up a form to put your veteran on the list, or just stop by and say “Hi!”

Days 7& 8!

Dottie and Sally

Spent the weekend with family and good friends (either-or-both). Saturday we arrived in Durant, Texas, and had lunch with Dottie’s son, Thomas. Then we went on to a tiny town, where the only store is a Dollar General that sells groceries and anything else you can name. We descended on Don “Pappy” Papin and his wife Sally. All of us immediately got a crush on Pappy, who is six-foot-something with a deep voice and a twinkly eye. We also fell in love with the two bitches – not to be confused with “broads”, folks, I’m talking about a pair of female dogs. Ushia is a sleek and gentle blonde German Afghan hound who immediately made me think of Celine Dion. Lure-lang is a puff-ball Pomeranian who made sure we all knew when anyone went in or out of the door. Who knew such a noise could come out of something the size of a racing lure? Pappy was the only male in a house chuck-full of females, and he seemed to alternate between being a bull in a herd of heifers, and the proverbial long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
Pappy is state captain of the Oklahoma Patriot Guard Riders. He talked to us for hours and gave us many insights into how the PGR works and what their mission is. With reservations and cautions, he arranged for us to have breakfast Sunday morning with three of his compadres. Like Pappy, they avoid publicity, preferring to have the cameras and attention on the veterans themselves. But they allowed us to film them for our documentary, and the four of us broads, plus Sally, sat around the table reveling in everything they had to say.
“Leatherneck” is, of course, a Marine vet. He came back from Viet Nam with a wooden leg and one knee-replacement and is more than able to empathize with our military today who come home in much different condition than they left. Among other patriotic and worthy causes, Leatherneck is a member of BACA, “Bikers Against Child Abuse”.

Leatherneck's colors

Just Talkin'

“Chief” is a Navy vet, soft-spoken but expressive. I believe he would’ve been happy to sit quietly and let the others speak, but when we asked what drew him to Patriot Guard, his answers were eloquent and moving.
“Judge” doesn’t have a military background himself but his family has a military history. He feels deeply that veterans deserve much more than they are getting, and wants to do whatever he can to honor, assist and protect them and their families.

Chief's colors

Pappy taught me a lot about the MIA (Missing In America) which tries to find the remains of vets who had no family to claim them.  MIA makes sure they get buried with full honors, and there is no one there but the people of MIA.  Doesn’t matter — they’ve honored a forgotten vet.

There was so much we learned from them, so many notes taken, that it cannot be fitted into one post, but I will be referring back to it throughout our trip. And of course much of it will be a part of our documentary.

Pappy's colors

After we left on Sunday morning, we again saw more of Texas than we’d planned, or at least more of Dallas, since I had trouble spotting the separate signs for the highways. Thank heaven we stopped at a Cracker Barrel and checked the maps over meat loaf, or we’d probably be in Mexico by now. Actually, Melissa seemed quite happy to do a complete circuit of the city and get plenty of skyline photos. Skylar put her earphones on and did whatever with those pad-things kids have today. For once I was happy to see a kid zone out.
I have to say they are real boyscouts in Texas; I mean, really prepared. We spotted a large store with a big sign that said “Condoms to Go”. Next came a billboard extorting us to forgo pornography, which was — intentionally, I’d bet — right next to a store selling adult videos. I guess there’s nothing wrong with covering all the angles.

Time to take off

Day Six — Privacy? What Privacy?

Heading for Hugs

So far we’d indulged ourselves in rather nice motel rooms, mainly because they were right off the highway and we were too tired to shop around. Actually, we weren’t all that impressed by some of them. They were nice enough; I don’t mean they were bad, just nothing really impressive. So we decided to try something on a lower financial tier. Even though it was a Friday night, pretty Virginia at the desk was able to give us a room that was, on most levels, pretty close to a couple we paid twice as much for. I didn’t realize until we checked in that they didn’t have a pool, but Melissa bravely substituted long walks for therapy in the pool. In this heat, bless her heart. And we had to hunt up a wastebasket. Virginia said one had come up missing, and she’d been borrowing from one room to another. Pretty bad when you don’t have an expense account for one wastebasket. Oh, and when we moved in we discovered there’s no door on the john. So we will know each other very well by the end of this trip. Skylar is mortified, of course, at her age.
By nine o’clock Saturday morning we’d followed Pam Tate’s directions to the YMCA Military Welcome Center just outside the terminal in Will Rogers World Airport, which is a hub for other destinations for the military. She couldn’t be with us right away because the Patriot Guard Riders had been asked to help welcome a triple amputee who was coming home. It was a private family affair, so we took a hint and stayed away. When we got to the door of the center, we found it had a serious lock on it. We got someone’s attention and were welcomed in and introduced ourselves. Millie, who was womaning the front desk, explained that just the week before someone had gotten through the regular locks after hours and stolen a fifty-inch flat-screen TV, another flat-screen in the mess room, and the X-box and all the equipment that went with it. These were all donated items, folks. Donated to be used by our military, kids far from home, waiting for a flight to God knows where, or just in off a flight, tired and waiting for a bus to base. As Millie said, how do you go back to the people who donated these items and say, “Gee, ya got any more?”

Waiting. And waiting.

When a flight was due, we followed the PGR over to the proper gate and talked to some of the military kids coming and going. I say “kids” deliberately. Melissa met a seventeen-year-old who had just finished her basic training and was now going home to finish her last year of high school before being deployed. These are the things that break our hearts on this trip. As Melissa says, some kids go to summer camp. This one went to boot camp.

Then Melissa proudly did flag duty while Skylar and I took pictures of the waiting families and then the troops coming in. The PGR is strict – they do not bother anyone, they do not even offer to shake hands or in any way bring attention to themselves. They simply stand with flags at attention, applaud each service member as they pass to their waiting loved ones and say quietly, “Welcome home”. As Pam Tate says, “It’s not about us, it’s about them.”
“People join to bring the patriotism back where it needs to be,” she said. “It died with Viet Nam. And many of our members are Viet Nam vets who joined because they want to make sure what happened to them never happens again.”
After an emotionally exhausting day, we came back to the room and collapsed in front of the boob tube. And nobody cared by then about lack of privacy. It does seem trivial compared to what our kids go through to ensure our freedom to travel around in safety and comfort.

catching a nap

baby Sterling was born premature while Dad was still deployed

Aug 5th — Day Five

This was a day of driving. We wanted to get to Oklahoma City and figured we had all day to do it. Good thing, too. We missed one turn-off and stuck a toe into Colorado before we came back down and hung a left. Then we saw a bit more of Texas than we’d planned and are still scratching our heads about it. I mean, when you’re following a road that is shooting straight as a razor toward a distant vanishing point, and fifty miles of empty prairie stretch out on either side, and after an hour you’re nearly cross-eyed with boredom, any small change in the scenery (like, say, another road) will catch your attention instantly. So how we eventually found ourselves on a road that apparently had no physical relationship to the one we started out on, is a question for the gods. “Whaddya mean, we’re on Route Whatsit? We’re supposed to be on Route Whosis!” But as Dottie’s husband would say, we were not lost, we were simply exploring alternate avenues of access. A simple adjustment put us back on track with very little loss of time.
As I said, any small thing catches your attention. One small thing that began to obsess me was an unassuming little sign that showed up at nearly every dusty deserted crossroad. It was a simple little sign with one word and a pointing arrow. The word was “cemetery”. No name, no explanations. Just “cemetery”. In the faint delirium of mile upon mile, I began to wonder how – in a land where the only thing moving was the occasional pickup truck fleeing in the opposite direction, where the tiny towns we sailed through sat clamped under the broiler lid of 118 degree heat with no humans ever in sight – how did they come up with so many dead people? If, as Dottie suggested, they were very old family cemeteries that contained many generations from older centuries, why did they consider it necessary to post these unobtrusive little signs, rather like a series of garage sales on a Saturday morning?
We arrived in Oklahoma City finally and met up with Pam Tate, a local coordinator for the Patriot Guard Riders. She graciously agreed to meet us for a late dinner, even though she’s getting up incredibly early tomorrow morning for a full day of events honoring members of the military and their families. She explained that, since she could not be in the military, nor was her father or anyone in her family, this was a way for her to feel that she was doing something for her country. The Patriot Guard are all volunteers who foot their own bills. Families call and the PGR does whatever they request to honor their loved ones. If the families change how they want things done, the PGR changes what’s done. “It wasn’t just the service member who served – it was the whole family. Flexibility is the key to making it work.”
We were grateful for all her insights, but one in particular stays with me. Pam explained that it wasn’t just the present members of the military that they honor, or the passing of one of the “Greatest Generation”.
“Whenever a man walks into [my place of business],” she said, “and he’s wearing a cap that says ‘Viet Nam Vet’, never mind that it might be forty-some years since he was discharged. I shake his hand and say ‘Welcome home’. It just might be the first time anyone’s ever said that to him.”

We’re makin’ a movie!

the Freedom Beat Bus

The eventual purpose of this road trip is to produce a film documentary. People have asked us to make a statement about why we want to cover this particular subject. After some thought, here’s mine:
I am of the Viet Nam generation. I didn’t protest the war – by the time I took a breath from raising children and started considering what the government was doing over there, it was over. For my second husband, however, it was never over. He never forgot being called a “baby-killer” when he came home. I don’t believe any of my generation begrudges the young ones their welcome-home parades, but I think there will always be a tinge of bitterness over the difference in people’s attitudes. Over what our husbands and brothers missed out on.
When my son returned from Desert Storm, I was thrilled to watch his town give a parade, and even more thrilled to see the tears in his tough man’s eyes. My other son has served a lifetime in the Army Special Forces, an outfit that discourages public recognition, and yet I’ve seen the pride in his eyes too. I could not be more proud and want to meet other moms and their soldier children.
Have there always been victory parades? Or were there other wars where veterans were vilified, or simply ignored and forgotten as soon as possible? Are we the only country that has a love-hate relationship with our military? Wanting to honor the young ones for their sacrifices, and yet unable to ignore that ingrained American fear of a military strong enough to threaten our civilian executive, legislative or judiciary?
My father told stories of the days of WWII and Korea when he and his buddies in uniform could stick out a thumb and be given rides to wherever they wanted to go. But, my father would add in wonder, it was safe back then. It never occurred to anyone that it wasn’t. He wouldn’t do it now, no matter how much the American public waves the flag. Has the trust gone? Was it ever really there?
In 1962 John Steinbeck stood witness as scores of people lined an Alabama street to scream insults and threats at a tiny black girl who dared attend a “white” school. And his question was, where are the people on the other side? Her defenders, the common people who believed that she had every right to attend a particular school in the same peace and honor as any other child in that town? Why aren’t they out there too, being just as vocal?
As I watched the Patriot Guard use their bodies to shield a family from the “free speech” of hate-filled religious homophobics, I wondered: Why aren’t there more defenders? Where are the ones who believe in the decency of allowing a family to bury their child in peace and honor? Why aren’t they out there too? And why was the Patriot Guard even there to begin with? How did a group that tends to be looked on as a fringe “biker” mob end up being the only people to literally stand between a grieving family and those who sought to turn that grief into horror?
I’d like to explore these questions and see if it isn’t time we all tried to answer them.

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