This weekend we remember the men and women who served in our military armed forces, and those who have paid the ultimate price for their service. Glenn Towery served in Vietnam, and now he is devoting his life to educating people about and working to prevent veteran suicides. Recently, he was a member of an Honor Flight from Austin to Washington, D.C. Responding to an article in the Austin newspaper paper, Glenn was inspired to write the following letter:
About a week ago, a friend of mine sent me an article about people working in City Hall using city time to do work for veterans. The deeper I read into the article, the more it became clear that the author was seriously out of touch with the spirit of what is being done by those who care and work to honor and save the lives of veterans.
It is unimaginable to me that the writer would take the stance that they have taken on this matter, especially in lieu of what has recently transpired at the Austin VA Medical center. The writer of the article most likely is not a veteran and has most likely never been the kind of person who is willing to place himself in harm’s way for people that he doesn’t know. Does he know the people that he’s writing about in his article? I happen to know them, and they are some of the most honorable men and women that I know. I’m almost certain that they did not work to improve veterans’ lives on Austin city’s dime and time, but even if they did, this is admirable to me. The writer leaves out that these men and women provide a very valuable service, especially for Vietnam veterans who have gotten the wrong end of the stick after and during that war.
Personally, as a Vietnam veteran, I can recall being in San Diego, California in 1971 and walking down the street in full uniform. Some people in a truck on the road called me some very nasty names as they lobbed three eggs that found their mark on my uniform. I will never forget the feeling I had as that truck sped away with them laughing and pointing at me. I think if I could have caught up with them that day I probably would have ended up in jail.
Allen Bergeron called me last year and asked me to go on an Honor Flight, the first historic all African American Honor Flight. I am founder and chairman of the Veterans Suicide Prevention Channel and the AVAFEST committee which is organizing the Austin Veterans Art Festival. Because of those responsibilities, I really did not want to go. Allen insisted that I go, the way a friend might want to make certain that you do not miss something special. I sensed that, so I relented and agreed to go on that historic Honor Flight.
I am so happy that I did because, had I not gone, I would have missed the trip of a lifetime. I would have missed out on the healing that flight provided for me and for the other African American Veterans who were aboard that Honor Flight. I learned that the key experience in Honor Flight is that first word, HONOR. From the very moment I arrived at the airport, I was blown away by the experience. I was proud to be there with other veterans who were African Americans. Our experience in Vietnam, Korea, and even WWII was different from our white counterparts. We often served amid racist conditions. It was like having to fight two enemies; the enemy that we were sent to fight and the enemy who was supposedly on our side.
There was an unexpected parade all the way to the plane. People lined up and were cheering us for what seemed like at least a quarter of a mile. The press, Mayor Steve Adler, several city officials, council members, family, friends, and people we didn’t even know. You could see that many of the men on the flight were emotionally moved and, in a way, that experience was healing, because none of us ever got a parade when we returned from Vietnam or Korea which were the conflicts where most of us served. I saw many of the men, including myself, moved to tears not because we were sad, but because we were overwhelmed by the appreciation that our fellow Americans of all cultures were showing us for the service we had given and the sacrifices that we had made.
Honor Flight most likely saved some veterans’ lives that day just because it happened and was happening to us, for us. We each had our own personal escort who was very attentive to us everywhere we went. We had a police escort. That weekend, we were being celebrated in Texas and in Washington, D.C. We visited the monuments and sang the Marine Corps song at their fabulous memorial. We laughed and talked on the bus about being in the military recalling the hard times and the good. For those hours we once again became a band of brothers. It was powerful.
So to complain because you feel that Austin city dollars are being misused because people are working to provide a positive, caring, once in a lifetime experience for veterans is a travesty if you ask me. If you have never had to duck and cover in a foreign land as part of the military, you should shut up. If you have never had to lock, load and fire in a hostile situation, don’t judge others who have. It is easy to point a finger and try to condemn others who are trying to help veterans heal by the creation of such a powerful program as Honor Flight, than to actually get off your ass and try to help some veterans yourself. Stop it. Even if your accusation was true, I personally would not care, but I know that it’s not.
We have to stand by those who have stood by us. No persons have stood by us with more to lose than our nation’s veterans. Allen Bergeron, a decorated member of the Marine Corps, should be commended, on every level, for what he has done with Honor Flight, as should all who have participated in the creation of this organization that provides such a wonderful experience for veterans.
As for me, I brooded over those three eggs that hit me and splattered all over my uniform and my pride for many years. However, after my Honor Flight, I can smile now looking back at that moment, because what they tried to take from me that day on the streets of San Diego, when they threw those eggs and hurled those hurtful racial and unpatriotic epithets, was discounted by my experience during HONOR FLIGHT #55. They got it wrong back then, but HONOR FLIGHT set it right.
Glenn Towery, Vietnam Combat Veteran