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It's never been more important to understand our neighbors on a deeper level. With careful, embedded reporting and engaging long-form narrative journalism, Community Dispatch will regularly bring you a series from one of our region's varying communities to explore their experiences, their concerns, and their defining sorrows and joys.

Vietnam Veterans of America will sunset once its members are gone. But one local chapter isn't slowing down

brick house with flagpole and VVA 10 sign
Tana Weingartner
Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 10 in Reading, Ohio.

On March 29, 1973, the U.S. Military Command in Vietnam disbanded and the final American troops stationed there left. Forty-four years later, in 2017, the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act was signed into law.

"Since we are Vietnam vets, we don't mind — in fact, we want to call attention to that war and to the sacrifices and everything that was involved with it," explains Charlie Doan, a member and past president of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 10.

The chapter is hosting an open house March 29 to recognize National Vietnam War Veterans Day.

Doan says the group is active in community and charity events, but you may recognize them most as the stoic faces behind the annualMemorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies in Eden Park.

"We are somewhat the forgotten, or even sometimes disrespected, group of veterans," Doan says. "And we're a service organization — we like to reach as a community, we like to invite people to share our experiences and come on in and talk to us."

He agrees things have changed over the past few decades.

"I think things have much improved. The general attitude in the public now is 'Don't blame the warrior for the war.' If you didn't like the war — which is perfectly understandable; reasonable minds can differ on those things — why, at least respect the service that the men and women gave, putting their lives literally on the line."

Among the first

When veterans of the Vietnam War returned home, many were met with anger and hatred. Some felt there was no room for them in existing veterans organizations, nor were those groups making the concerns and issues of Vietnam veterans a priority. The national organization that would become Vietnam Veterans of America got its start in 1978.

The organization reports its ranks grew steadily for the first few years. Two chapters in the Cincinnati area were among the first in the nation, according to Doan.

"And then they merged, but the one of those two originally was Chapter One, believe it or not. But when they merged, national said, 'Well, there's a chapter somewhere, I think it was in New York, that wanted to be chapter number one, and it had some reasonable claim to it. So would we mind taking a different number?' And we said sure. So we became Chapter 10, which was a combination of a couple of different chapters back in the day."

The chapter proudly pronounces it was named Chapter of the Year in 2005.

Until the last

Today the national organization counts some 89,000 members nationwide. Chapter 10 is around 125, Doan estimates. The group welcomes everyone to participate — membership is open to Vietnam and Vietnam-era veterans. There are also auxiliary or associate memberships for other veterans or community supporters.

The national organization reports it has seen membership increase over the last few years. Membership rules were adjusted in 2021 to extend eligibility to those who served Nov. 1, 1955 to Feb. 28, 1961. A lifetime membership is $50.

The members themselves, though, are aging as the war recedes further into the past. In 2018, the average member age was 72 years old.

"The national organization of which we are a derivative chapter has more or less sunsetted the organization," Doan says. "It's going to be kind of a last man standing (situation). There was a lot of talk about changing the name of the organization and trying to open opportunities for younger vets — veterans from different eras to come in and join, which would then then make us like some of the other vet organizations like American Legion or VFW or things like that. But (it) was decided at the national level that we would just sunset that thing, and it'll disappear when we're all gone."

Open House details

The Open House is open to all community members, not just veterans, Doan points out. It's from noon to 4 p.m. at 8418 Reading Road, Reading, OH 45215. A catered lunch will be provided.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.