Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Warm welcome

Veterans’ Tent is popular attraction
during annual Plymouth Ice Festival

As the crowds flock into the huge tent behind E.G. Nick's restaurant during the Ice Festival this year, they probably won't realize the $5 cover charge is being collected by a hero.
The tent, renamed the Veteran's Party Tent this year, will feature two of the most popular bands in the area, Smokin' Mirrors on Friday and Power Play Detroit on Saturday. It is one of the largest fundraisers of the year for the Vietnam Veterans of America group. The men collecting the cover charge and checking IDs at the entrance are veterans of that war and have seen armed conflict that didn't end with their return home during the late 1960s. Many faced angry crowds, jeers and the hostility of their fellow Americans.
“The first thing I did was get out of my uniform even though I was proud to wear it,” veteran Rick Adis said. “I just didn't want to take all the crap.”
Vietnam veteran Ron King of Plymouth Township recalled an airline gate agent in San Diego, California, suggesting he change his clothes as his uniform could offend some people. “We didn't get treated well,” he said.

They, along with several others,  are members of the Plymouth-Canton Vietnam Veterans of America, (VVA) a group founded in 1978 and which remains the only National Vietnam Veterans Organization congressionally chartered and exclusively dedicated to Vietnam-Era Veterans and their families.  The entire cover charge for both nights of live entertainment in the tent will go to help support the veterans' organization, noted E.G. Nick's owner Frank Agostini.
“He just freely gives it to the Vietnam Veterans,” said King, Chapter 528 secretary and former president. “He has a special place in his heart for Vietnam veterans.”
The cost is $5 per person. Last year, the Chapter 528 volunteers made close to $6,000 from Ice Fest tent.
“He just treats us really well,” Plymouth Township resident King said of Agostini. Being at the Ice Fest promotes VVA community involvement while supporting activities and services for veterans.
Vietnam veterans Don Dignan of Livonia, a Dearborn native, John Spencer who lives in Canton and Bob Lamoureux, also of Canton, have leadership roles in both the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) Chapter 528 as well as the Veterans of Foreign Wars Mayflower Lt. Gamble Post 6695, at 1426 S. Mill St. in Plymouth. Returning veterans from Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere are encouraged to call (734) 459-6700 to learn about membership and benefits offered to veterans.
The goal of the group is, “to promote and support the full range of issues important to Vietnam-Era Veterans, to create a new identity for this generation of veterans, and to change public perception of Vietnam-Era Veterans, according to the website dedicated to the chapter. “Our chapter activities benefit the communities of Plymouth and Canton as well as Wayne County and these activities help to create a positive public perception of Vietnam-Era Veterans.”
Dignan said the post has a few Korean veterans who are members. A couple of World War II veterans remain, and Persian Gulf service personnel have joined in recent years, he added.
The post is reaching out to younger veterans, and the men point with pride to Iraq combat medics who have joined.. The current membership is 307 individual members and 285 life members.
“I was in two years. That was enough,” Lemoureux said of his Vietnam service.” He was in country for 14 days and injured by napalm, earning a Purple Heart. Spencer was in Vietnam for 1966, in service 1965-67. Adis was in-country during 1966-67.
Dignan served 1967-68, in Vietnam the last half and first half of those years. King and Adis were in the U.S. Air Force, the rest Army. “We flew search and rescue,” recalled King. “I'm the only officer in the bunch, the token.” He was in the Air Force for 22 years and in Vietnam in 1971-72.
All five men are current or past VVA presidents.
Veterans like them will be volunteering their time both Friday and Saturday and the entire cover charge goes to the local chapter to help veterans with a multitude of services.
“These guys are heroes,” said Agostini. “Whatever we can do to help them, we'll do.”