LIHUE — Mike Johnson, a Vietnam War veteran from the U.S. Navy, was at the Kauai Veterans Center on Saturday to answer questions and provide more information about the Vietnam Veterans of America, Kauai Chapter he is attempting to form for Kauai Vietnam vets.
“I am a member of the VVA, Chapter 982,” Johnson said. “When I investigated other chapters in Hawaii, I found out there is no chapter on Kauai. I couldn’t find one on Maui, and the only Hawaii chapter I could find was on Oahu.”
The VVA recognizes the contributions and sacrifices of men and women in uniform, pledging to be a positive force as it works to educate future generations in the hopes that the tragedies of Vietnam will never be forgotten or repeated.
“When I left for Vietnam, I left a friendly country,” Johnson said. “When I returned, it was to an unfriendly country. I actually hid behind Hare Krishnas to get out of the airport.”
The men and women who served during Vietnam performed their duties with dignity and honor, but returned home to scorn and ridicule. They had nowhere to turn, and national veterans service organizations were of little help.
“Veterans can talk to veterans,” Johnson said. “Veterans have the same experiences and can understand the frustrations and pain we have.”
The Vietnam-era vets banded together, and in 1978, the VVA was born.
Veterans who served on active duty in the U.S. military for other than training purposes between Feb. 28, 1961 through May 7, 1975 in Vietnam, and those who served between Aug. 5, 1964 through May 7, 1975 for Vietnam-era veterans, are eligible for VVA membership.
“We need at least 25 members to start up a chapter,” Johnson said. “People wishing to be part of the chapter need to fill out an application form, and for veterans, (provide) a copy of their DD 214. When I got out, I actually had to file for a DD214. During the process, I found out I had a Silver Star medal. I had no idea what those were because I just put them away when they came. “
Johnson served with the U.S. Navy on mine forces in Vietnam.
“We patrolled all the waterways for mines,” Johnson said. “Brown water, blue water. We were the ones who kept the others safe from explosive mines. People who have Agent Orange claims must have served in brown water. But the people who serve on boats are right next to brown water because their drinking water comes from the river.”
Following his tour, Johnson said he, like other Vietnam vets, isolated himself following the demonstrations of disrespect.
“When I got back, I had PTSD and didn’t even know it until it affected me physically,” Johnson said. “I had the dreams. But didn’t everybody who served in Vietnam? Finally, it got to the point where my doctor suggested I visit a psychologist to help control my blood pressure. It only took a couple of questions before I was diagnosed with PTSD, and I spent two months at Tripler Hospital to learn how to relax and control my blood pressure.”
Johnson said once a Kauai chapter is established, the group can expand to include other activities such as fundraising for needed supplies, the establishment of officers and board, and start enjoying some of the other activities.
“Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another,” Johnson said. “That’s the credo for the VVA and, to date, we’ve lived up to that.”
Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.