Liberty County has several active veterans’ organizations. Many members of one organization are members of other organizations as well.
Even though its members are members of other veterans groups, the Vietnam Veterans of America is different, said Carol Schetrompf, new president of the VVA, Liberty Chapter 789.
Schetrompf said the nonprofit organization’s membership is limited to Vietnam veterans. Qualifying dates for Vietnam vets for those who served in-country are Feb. 28, 1961-May 7, 1975. For all other duty locations, the dates are Aug. 5, 1964-May 7, 1975.
“Unlike the (Veterans of Foreign Wars), American Legion or (Disabled American Veterans), we are a ‘last-man-standing’ organization. When the last Vietnam veteran passes away, so will the VVA,” said Schetrompf, who was elected as chapter president in March.
She said the VVA also is different in that it doesn’t lobby Congress. The group’s Veterans Affairs representative has connections with veterans organizations that do lobby, but the VVA’s focus mostly is the health of Vietnam veterans, many of whom are suffering from exposure to Agent Orange.
Schetrompf said medical studies are finding that even the vets’ children and grandchildren can suffer from cancer caused by the herbicide program intended to defoliate jungle canopies in Southeast Asia during the 1960s.
She added that female soldiers who were stationed at Alabama’s Fort McClellan — which served as a training base for the Women’s Army Corps — also are suffering from the effects of Agent Orange.
Schetrompf said they don’t sit around and talk about the war during VVA meetings, although any new member may be asked the usual questions about what branch, years, unit and location they served.
The California native said she began her own military career in 1965 with the Navy.
“I sent River Rats to Vietnam,” she said, referring to the Navy fast boats that patrolled that country’s rivers and inlets. “I got out, then went in the Army Reserve in 1974. I went on active duty in 1980, then got out again and went in the Georgia (Army) National Guard, but I was medically retired because of a back injury. Altogether, I served over 31 years (in the military).”
She and her husband, a retired Ranger-qualified infantryman, were stationed in Panama on Dec. 20, 1989, when Operation Just Cause began.
“I had a squad of 10 soldiers — nine of which were women — out on perimeter guard,” she said. “Mortar rounds were hitting in front of soldiers’ quarters. Most people just have no idea what it’s like to serve in the military.”
She related the experience in Panama to another family member who was serving on Dec. 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Military service is a way of life for her family, she said.
“The VVA is the smallest of the service organizations,” Schetrompf explained. “We have the same purpose as the others — to help veterans — but our focus is to help Vietnam veterans.”
Schetrompf noted that the VVA has never failed to be there during Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield troop returns. Members hold a large welcome-home banner for the troops and give tiny American flags to family members.
She said the goal and motto of the VVA is “Never again shall one generation of veterans abandon another,” recalling how many Vietnam veterans received no welcome-home ceremonies, and were at the time rejected by some veterans organizations.
She said the local chapter has 132 members but noted there are thousands of Vietnam vets in the community.
She’d like to reach out to them as potential members, who can assist with pancake-breakfast fundraisers to pay for the welcome-home flags or special projects like building handicapped ramps for disabled veterans on their widows.
For more information, call 368-6679.