BRISTOL — Fellowship is at the core of veteran organizations, Vietnam veterans say.
“Veterans develop a brotherhood and sisterhood that’s “beyond words,” Robert Wood said. “We take care of each other all the way.”
Wood, a 1973-74 Vietnam War-era veteran and executive board and sergeant-at-arms for the American Legion Post 143, said the Legion and many other organizations are special to veterans because they offer a fellowship veterans can’t find anywhere else.
“It’s my second home. No matter what happens in the world, no matter what, I can always go there. That, in itself, is quite an achievement. Veterans do feel that way,” he said. “My wife passed away about a year and a half ago and there were times when I needed help and they were there.”
“When we join the Legion, we don’t know who the members are and over time, we develop a bond that’s really unbreakable and we do actually become family,” he said. “We share troubles and we share good times.”
Jane Rieth has been a member of the Legion for about 34 years. After returning from Vietnam in 1963 she discovered the place and never looked back.
“No matter who you are, if you come in and you’re a veteran and they know you, somebody is going to talk to you,” she said. “You can talk about your problems or your kids. We talk about everything.”
There was a time, Wood recalled, when veterans weren’t so well-received among the general public.
“Back in during Vietnam, whenever we traveled, we use to get spit on, called baby killers,” he said. “Society has changed for the better and we’re all very thankful for that.”
Just as in the service, veterans at home retain their sense of civic duty.
“Throughout the year there are agencies that need help or veteran’s families that need help – maybe they’re traveling and their vehicle breaks down or they need money and we do whatever we can to help out,” he said. “I can’t say enough good things about the Legion, that’s for sure.”
Rieth recalled a more recent service opportunity the veterans of the Legion committed to.
“We just helped a guy here in Bristol – a veteran – who got hit by a car,” she said. “We helped him with some of his expenses. Everything we do here helps get money so we can help the veterans.”
The Bristol-based post is primarily comprised of Vietnam-era veterans, but commander Wally Repiatch said they’ve been working toward increasing participation of younger veterans.
“The older members, World War II and Korea, are passing away and leaving a little void,” he said.
Still, the post had 100 percent membership renewal last year, so young veterans must be joining.
“Younger ones are starting to trickle in now,” Wood said. “It’s mainly been us old vets but now people are realizing that we are a home for veterans and their families even if it’s just a place to hang out.”
Repiatch said one thing that’s helped the post remain strong is the additional groups that offer support – Sons of the American Legion, Ladies Auxiliary and the American Legion Riders.
An avid member of several volunteer groups, Rieth is a member of the Auxiliary, DAV, the Marine Corp League and the AMVETS.
“We’re kind of like a family,” she said. “You can come in and sit down at anybody’s table; we’re all friends. We have big tables because they fill them all up. It’s just a friendly fun place to be.”
On Veteran’s Day, however, the Legion’s event will be smaller.
“We allow people to go out and visit their families,” Wood said. “We honor their wishes by letting them do whatever they want to that day.”
With Veteran’s Day all about remembering those who’ve served, Wood offered one suggestion.
“Honor your veterans; the ones above and below the ground,” he said. “If you see a veteran and you want to do something for them, please do.”