It is November and everything is changing. The leaves are almost through changing colors, the weather is turning colder and it is getting darker sooner. Now that I have you thinking dismal, I want to tell you all about our last Town Hall Meeting in Alexandria Virginia for Rolling Thunder. I had done a NJ State meeting for them in the Spring and was asked if I thought we could put one on for them at their national Conference in November. Naturally I said yes and figured if worse came to worse, no one would show up and the meeting would be short. By the time of the meeting, a lot of interest had risen and others offered help to do the meeting with myself and Mokie Porter. As you all know, Rolling Thunder’s main objective is the full accounting of our POW and MIA from Vietnam. Because of this, Grant Coates, chair of the Veterans Initiative Program volunteered to help and then there was Marsha Four, (National VP) who had the great idea of a table for the VI and membership which she volunteered to help at.
I had no idea of what to expect and the weather wasn’t cooperating either. We arrived on the cold windy and rainy afternoon and I thought we were in for it. As I walked into the hotel, it was like the clouds parted and the sun came out. I was greeted by the people of the hotel who could not do enough for us and then the president of Rolling Thunder, Gary Scheffmeyer came up to me and greeted us also. We went over the plans for the meeting and our table location with the people running the event. They were very helpful and they told us that while the meeting was going on, the table would be brought to the location of the meeting so attendees could stop by and get information.
Mokie and her staff had assembled some three hundred packets with information and an additional couple of hundred Agent Orange Self Help Guides were brought just in case. Jim Porter, Mokie’s husband was drafted unto delivering the supplies, the staff and then running two videos. Then he even filmed the Town Hall Meeting. Between, Jim, Grant Marsha, Sharon and Mokie, we had a very elite group to handle whatever could come our way.
I started the conversation with information about Agent Orange and the two Videos that Jim showed laid the historic and disturbing facts about Agent Orange. We all took turns in speaking and in order to get the group to open up, both Marsha and myself told our family stories about our progeny. We then tried to get the attendees to tell their stories and at first, there were no takers. Then we asked for questions. It seemed like they were all in a trance and first thought they didn’t believe a word we said. Then one by one questions started coming forward and then others from Rolling Thunder started telling their stories.
Evidently we stirred something deep inside the Rolling Thunder membership that had not been brought to light before. We later learned that many said they felt like they were hit in the face with a board. We also found out that we were the first ever to be allowed to go over the one hour limit allotted for our session. Although many have been blaming themselves all these years for their children’s illnesses. they never really connected our exposure to Agent Orange to their children. I can tell you all that that has now changed. We went beyond the one hour time limit allotted for us by about forty minutes and were told that our session was to important to stop. All of our literature was taken home. We were thanked over and over again for the information and were invited back again next year to their conference.
Today I received an email from their Government Affairs head, (Tom Bender) and in it gave the many POW/MIA bills in both the House and Senate along with their recommendation for their membership to push their representatives to back these issues. The thing that surprised me was their push for the extension and continuation of the 1991 Agent Orange Act and also the push for S-1602 for the Agent Orange screening, testing and treatment of our progeny and those of all veterans exposed to toxic substances. This bill needs to be pushed out of committee and also needs the House to adopt it along with the rest of the Senate.
I also want to tell you all about Sharon Hobbs who also gave up her Saturday and I believe Friday too, to help out and answer questions about Agent Orange and its legislation. I have been told that we have gained at least ten new members, one AVVA member who wants to help by becoming a Service Officer and we have been alerted that Rolling Thunder wants to get involved with the Town Hall meetings and their Alabama chapter has contacted us so we will certainly let our state council presidents know so we can optimize the Town Hall meetings as much as possible.
Agent Orange/Dioxin & Other Toxic Substances Committee Vietnam Veterans of America