The South Carolina Combat Veterans Group is taking part in what they consider to be a “healing mission” over the weekend of October 8. Approximately 100 members of Combat Veterans of the Vietnam War are traveling to Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C. to visit patients who have returned from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Commander Tommy Olds, a Vietnam veteran, says this is a trip to help heal both physical and emotional injuries. He says this is an opportunity to close painful gaps of memories that he and his comrades have experienced.
Ninety percent of these guys making this trip were Vietnam veterans. One thing a lot of us went through when we went to Vietnam, we saw the loss of a lot of our comrades on the battle field. A lot of them were injured, or perhaps lost their lives. And it’s real difficult, even after 40 years, it’s difficult to deal with to not to have the closure of being back here in the states when we returned here from Vietnam.
Commander Olds says that they can relate to and perhaps encourage patients who have returned from combat in more recent wars.
What we hope by this trip is that by going to see Walter Reed Hospital, the visitations that have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with combat injuries, post-traumatic stress syndrome, and combat stress and all the different illnesses both physical and mental. We hope that we can inspire them to see that they can survive with those injuries and those illnesses just the same as we have.
Commander Olds says the trip brings back painful memories, but it is a blessing too:
It also gives us a sense of pride. Being in Vietnam was sort of like a forgotten war, and we didn’t get the opportunity to come back into society and be recognized for doing anything other than being labeled as “bad guy.” Now after 40 years we have an opportunity to do something, to be seen as doing good, to be known for doing something good. And that’s helping the other comrades who are facing the same troubles.
Commander Olds says he hopes their visits will give the newer veterans the encouragement they need.
Showing them that they can be successful in healing and that they can survive, because it’s very important to encourage them. As you know, the suicide rate is very high among the military people that are in combat right now.
Along with sharing memories and encouraging other vets who are in the hospital, Commander Olds says it does the vets a lot of good just to spend time together, and to be once again on a mission:
We are glad to have this opportunity. We feel like this is a mission, that we have to do this. It’s a healing mission. It’s a closure mission and when we return, we return proud of what we have done. You know, we weren’t proud when we returned from Vietnam. We’ll return this time with a lot of pride.
Following their visits to the Walter Reed Army Hospital, the South Carolina Combat Veterans Group will perform a Memorial Ceremony of Honor and Remembrance at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to pay tribute to those who gave their lives.