Above: Office of Georgia Vietnam Veterans Alliance; photo by Joe Earle
John Paulson remembers what it was like back then. When he returned from Vietnam in the late 1960s after his time as a rifleman with the U.S. Marines, he just didn’t seem to fit in with the old-timers at his local Veterans of Foreign Wars post back in Chicago.
“It was filled with World War II vets,” Paulson said. “I was 22 years old. I didn’t relate to them at all.”
Paulson didn’t go back. In fact, he stayed away for decades. Then, a few years ago, he started attending gatherings of the American Legion Post 140, which is based in Buckhead. “This was my peer group,” he said. “I feel more comfortable and more engaged with the guys that are there.”
Now Paulson, who’s also a city councilmember in Sandy Springs, is service officer with the post and works to help other vets. He also is working with a new VFW chapter that’s organizing in Buckhead.
Other Vietnam vets say they faced similar situations when they returned from their war. Feeling they didn’t fit in with existing groups, some started their own organizations to pull fellow Vietnam vets together to talk about their experiences and to try to help others.
Decades later, groups of Vietnam vets still meet to give their members places to come together. The American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars are certainly the largest veterans’ organizations, but here are a few local groups organized or supported by Vietnam veterans that remain active.
Atlanta Vietnam Veterans Business Association
This association started in 1985 when five Atlanta area businessmen gathered on Veterans Day. “Their focus was to promote a positive image of Vietnam veterans. We all thought Vietnam veterans got a bad shake coming out of Vietnam,” association board member and former president Max Torrence said.
The group now claims more than 300 members and meets the first Tuesday of each month to socialize and hear speakers. The nonprofit group also puts up memorials to metro Atlantans who died during the Vietnam War, works with other local groups such as the USO and has deployed volunteers to help during disasters, Torrence said.
“We’re all in our late 60s or early 70s,” Torrence said. “But we still have something on the ball and can help.”
Army Aviation Heritage Foundation
The Hampton-based organization maintains and flies vintage military helicopters. Members fly foundation helicopters to schools, air shows and veterans meetings to display the machines and give rides. Its fleet includes four flyable Vietnam-era “Hueys,” said president and CEO Fred Edwards, and many of the people who fly and maintain them are Vietnam veterans.
The organization, which has chapters scattered across the country, claims about 800 active members and Edwards estimates that half or more are Vietnam vets.
Georgia Vietnam Veterans Alliance
The alliance traces its roots to a group of Vietnam vets who regularly got together in the 1980s for coffee at a VFW post in Marietta, founder Marvin Myers said. It has grown to a service organization that offers help to vets in need.
Formally organized in the 1990s and now headquartered in Doraville, the group claims about 300 members and has chapters in several Georgia communities, he said. It raises money and provides financial support for any vets who need help with rent, utilities, food, transportation, counseling, alcohol or drug abuse. At one point, it operated its own shelter, Myers said. The group also offers scholarships. “The main purpose is to assist veterans with their problems,” he said, “and to pull Vietnam vets together.”