How we began...
The Kansas Vietnam Veterans and Family Reunion was born in the summer of 1988. It had been twenty or so years since several ‘nam vets’ had been in country. In a discussion group, the idea of having a reunion of area Vietnam vets was debated. Ben Mitchell decided that he would bring the idea before the Veterans of Foreign Wars Kansas State Convention that June 4th. The V.F.W. was receptive to the idea, and encouraged Ben, but didn’t offer any funding to help produce the reunion.
Ben returned to El Dorado with a mission in mind! Tentative plans had been to hold the reunion the 16-17-18th of July, on the third weekend. He, and the other vets that decided to join him in the effort only had 39 days to get it together. Many businesses in the El Dorado, Kansas area were contacted as well as businesses in Wichita, Topeka, and Kansas City. Many of these came through, by either donating or providing at discount, food, drinks, apparel, and other items. The reunion went well, with about 650 veterans & family members attending. One of the highlights of that first reunion was the arrival of a UH-1 “Huey” ‘slick’ from the Kansas National Guard. It provided the backdrop for a group photo.
As the reunion came to a close on Sunday afternoon, it was discovered that there was a surplus of many items, and most being foodstuffs were given away to the vets. Ben made an announcement that he also had a few bags of charcoal, and asked if anyone would like to buy some. He mentioned that this was an effort to recoup some of the funds that had been put out for the reunion. Someone offered $5.00 for a bag, and another vet said he’d give $6.00, suddenly, Ben found himself serving as an impromptu auctioneer, selling all the rest of the supplies (even the cooks aprons) to the highest bidders. Some vets were even bringing personally owned items to the ‘stage’ and donating them to help with the expenses.
At the end of the ‘auction’, as people were preparing to leave, they all came to the idea that this should become an annual event. What had started as a one-time event, now had a lease on life, and would continue to grow. Ben went home that Sunday, hot, dusty, and tired, but glowing inside with the knowledge that he had done something that the Vietnam Veterans of Kansas had waited twenty years or longer to have.
A common greeting between Vietnam vets is to say, “Welcome Home”. Due to the fact that many of us didn’t go and return in unit size, we never had the welcoming home parades that our fathers knew in World War II or Korea, we greet each other in this fashion. On the eve of Saturday, July 21st, the Reunion transitioned to incorporate all Kansas Veterans. This was needed as our Vietnam Veterans are not getting any younger. In order for the Reunion to continue on for many more years, “younger blood” was needed to make sure that happens.
At the reunion, the greeting remains “Welcome Home, Brother” and the good byes are always “See you next year.”