Founding Principle of Vietnam Veterans of America:
“Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.”
On Monday, Vietnam vet and POW Gail Kerns was honored by the West Virginia Veterans of America. During the war, he was detained at the infamous Hanoi Hilton and was held prisoner for four years. Kerns is West Virginia’s only living POW. He makes his home at The Seasons in Lewisburg.
Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) member Dave Simmons, president of the West Virginia State Council (WVSC), and Mitch Carte, vice president, along with their other chief officers, travel throughout West Virginia to honor veterans like Kerns. They bring with them a smaller version of the Vietnam Veterans Wall in Washington, DC called the WV Veterans Mobile Wall on which are the 732 names of West Virginia service men and women who died in Vietnam during the war. The exhibit was on display at The Seasons retirement home on Monday.
The West Virginia Veterans Mobile Wall was built last year and has become a great enhancement to VVA members’ presentations as they travel the state. Funding for the project came from many county commissions committed to support the veterans of WV.
“The West Virginia State Council’s Vietnam Veterans Mobile Wall was constructed to serve as a Memorial for all West Virginia’s Vietnam Veterans who served during the Vietnam War. This wall will only include the names of West Virginians who were killed in action, held as Prisoners Of War, and those still Missing in Action on the soils of South Vietnam, North Vietnam, its seaways and theater of operation. This list includes over 732 West Virginians who are true heroes that gave their lives in the Vietnam War for their country and this proud State,” Dave Simmons stated.
Simmons and Carte are members of one of 15 separate veteran units in the state. New veteran units can be formed when a minimum of 25 vets sign up as a group in a given area. They travel from county to county each year with up to 120 stops around the state to meet with veterans and offer assists in filing disability claims, find rehab facilities and assisted living programs for those who need it. They sell T-shirts, patches and decals to help defray their costs. Carte said he has helped recover $1.5 million in claims for veterans. The VVA members’ efforts for the care and well-being of our vets is entirely volunteered. It is an impressive commitment, spanning nearly 40 years since the Vietnam War.
The other officer members of the WVVA veterans unit are Rod Farley, second vice president, Joe Wilson, treasurer, Ivan Freeland, secretary, and John Jones and Horace Brown share the title of sgt. at arms. So far this year, they have visited 18 counties.
The primary function of the WV state council is to provide management guidance and administrative support for the 15 Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) chapters within the state. In addition, the Council may from time to time be responsible for various state wide initiatives. The council is comprised of four delegates from each of the chapters plus the President from the Associates of Vietnam Veterans of America,West Virginia Association (AVVA).
The AVVA is a separate 501C(4) organization comprised of concerned individuals who may not otherwise be eligible for membership in the VVA, a 501c(19) organization. Dave’s wife, Elaine Simmons, also on hand at The Seasons exhibit, is vice president of AVVA and proudly heads up “Operation Sweet Dreams” in which a stuffed toy bear is inserted with a voice activated message from each soldier’s loved ones. It is meant for deployed troops to take with them as reminders of loved ones at home. She has given out 3,000 so far.
The Vietnam Wall in Washington DC has the names of 58,476 military service members killed during the war. But according to Simmons, many more service people died during the war but because they may have been moved to Japan or Germany or to a hospital ship for treatment yet did not survive their wounds, those names are not included on the wall (either the WV Wall or on the Vietnam Wall in DC). Simmons estimates somewhere in the vicinity of 37,500 more service personnel perished in addition to the list on the Wall in DC because they did not die “in country.”
For more information on the WV State Council and the mobile wall, please go to www.westvirginiastatecouncil.com and www.wvmobilewall.org.