Although members of Kenosha Area Vietnam Veterans call it a “dying” organization, it’s still very much alive.
The nonprofit hosted its annual fundraiser at Cheers, 4619 Eighth Ave., Saturday afternoon, with the festivities including a picnic and poker run. Hundreds turned out to show their support for the 31-year-old organization that many feel often gets overlooked.
“We donate back to different organizations, and we’re the honor guard for the city of Kenosha for all veteran funerals. We do about 135 funerals a year, so we’re busy,” said treasurer Rich Bowker. “We’ve lost 35 people in our organization since 1985, when we came into existence. Our organization has dwindled — we’re only Vietnam vets. We’re a ‘dead man’s club.’ We can’t get any bigger.”
The independent organization still boasts more than 160 members, many of whom remember feeling judged and disrespected when returning home from Vietnam.
“When we came home, we weren’t liked,” Bowker said. “We were told to take our uniforms off, because you’d get beat up.”
Kenosha Area Vietnam Veterans was launched when local veterans began working to honor their fallen brothers and sisters.
“A float in a parade started our organization,” Bowker said. “Everybody finally got together. We thought if organizations didn’t want us, we’d make our own.”
Many turn outWhile munching on fried chicken and sipping on cold beers, a mix of old and young chatted with Vietnam veterans about their service and local efforts honoring dead soldiers. The vibe was joyous — partly because of the DJ and partly because of the mild weather.
“They deserve a lot more recognition,” said Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha. “They keep the spirit of soluting and recognizing our veterans alive. It’s very important to do now. These are troubling times we live in. ... These Vietnam vets help all veterans.”
Kris and Louis Piehl, directors of Bruch Funeral Home, have become familiar with Kenosha Area Vietnam Veterans and their honor guard over the years. They said local support for veterans is slowing growing.
“Ever since they got back from serving our country they’ve been shunned, but now with these kind of events, the general public can support them and say that they’re thankful for what they did,” Louis Piehl said. “You can see all the people here supporting them.”
Ian Denton, a member of the Wisconsin National Guard Military Funeral Honors Program, said he appreciates Kenosha Area Vietnam Veterans’ commitment to serving all veterans.
“I want to show my support for them, because (KAVV) is always supporting veterans no matter what,” he said. “They go to every (military) branch funeral to give their support. ... For as much as they do, they’re not given enough recognition.”