National Vietnam War Veterans' Day is March 29, and Creswell Grange is putting forth efforts to ensure that Vietnam-era veterans - and all veterans - are offered a continued ”welcome home” for serving our country.
A free public dinner honoring veterans will be held on Thursday, March 29 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Creswell Grange, 298 W. Oregon Ave. This dinner is meant to bring awareness and connection to the community and our local veterans population - a separation that needs to be mended, local veterans and Grange members say.
Mike Cantrall, County Pomona Grange Veterans Committee chair and Creswell Grange member, remembers coming home in 1968 after serving his country.
”I got kicked around a few times when I got back,” Cantrall said. He said that, unlike in other wars, Vietnam veterans were not treated with the same honor and respect as was seen in other wars after returning home. In fact, Cantrall said the general American population generally treated Vietnam vets terribly.
”When I was growing up, I was told 'red, white and blue. Do what you're told and stand up for your country.' And when we did, we got kicked in the butt,” Cantrall said. ”We couldn't wear our (military) uniforms, not even to church. There was a lot of stuff going on like that. We were (treated like) the terrible guys...a lot of people got hurt - inwardly hurt.”
The thing that should be remember is these veterans went to war because they were asked to, Cantrall said.
”We did what we had to do, what we were asked to do,” Cantrall said.
Cantrall said that a lot of veterans committed suicide after coming home from the Vietnam War, and still do to this day.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports that each day, there are around 20 veterans who commit suicide. That report also states that veteran suicides account for 18 percent of the suicide deaths in the country.
”That ain't right,” Cantrall said of the veteran suicide rates. ”Now we are losing a lot more (veterans to suicide) because (the vets) are older now and have nowhere to go,” he said. ”They lost their kids, their families, have nothing.”
He said that the soldiers coming home now face the same turmoil.
”Anything would help for the vets that are coming back to the United States now,” Cantrall said. ”You get a guy out there that has been sniping for years, and he's blowing people up, hurting people. But he didn't want to do that, and people don't understand that.”
Cantrall and President of Creswell Grange Martin McClure said that the Grange can assist with getting help and providing better care for veterans, given their legislative body.
What sets the Grange organizations apart is the fact that members are educated on the importance of civic engagement and are empowered to serve their state and communities, McClure said. The Grange's legislative department works to implement goals and values at the federal level.
”If the Grange can work with vets, there's a lot of things that we could put together to make things better,” he said. ”My opinion is that no other body of people can give what the Grange can do.
We gotta do (good) for these people and with the Grange having the legislative body to help, we can do things that you can't really do otherwise,” Cantrall said. ”The more grangers that come in and help, or more people that come to these events, they're gonna understand.”
This ”welcome home” dinner is a step in the right direction, McClure said.