What echoed in the packed room were the similarities—the meaninglessness of war, the tales of horror and robbed innocence, and the lives lost and damaged.
“Salute to Veterans: Hearing the Stories of Those Who’ve Served” took place here on Nov. 10 and was a meaningful and powerful event that served as the last presentation in the fall Glenmeadow Learning education series. Tim Cotz, our president and CEO, told a news reporter from the Republican, “As a nonprofit, our mission is to serve seniors and their families. With Veteran’s Day approaching, we thought this would be a great panel discussion.”
Indeed it was.
Moderated by James Munroe, retired dean of the Episcopal Cathedral in Springfield, the panel also included: Myles Garrigan, a veteran of World War II; Robert Kelliher, a Vietnam veteran; John Paradis, a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the deputy superintendent at Holyoke Soldiers Home; and Amber DeGrandpre, who was deployed to Iraq and is still actively drilling in the Army National Guard.
Our panelists evoked sadness from the audience as well as frustration that so many veterans—particularly Vietnam veterans—remain homeless and that war can often result in lifelong drug and alcohol dependency, suicide or withdrawal from society all together.
“Whether it’s World War I, II, Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan or Iraq, war is brutal regardless of its cause,” said panelist Bob Kelliher of Wilbraham. Bob shared some devastating and vivid memories from his two tours in Vietnam; in particular, he recalled holding a fellow soldier in his arms as the young man took his final breath.
“All I thought at that moment was this man will not die with his face in the mud. He will die with dignity and so I held him in my arms,” Bob said. “He was a Latin fellow from Brooklyn and with his last breath, he called out for his mother in Spanish.”
Before the panel discussion began, we offered a preview of a film produced by Easthampton’s Dan Lohaus, “When I Come Home,” which follows two Vietnam veterans who are homeless.
Our panelists then told their stories, snapshots from which appear below:
Myles Garrigan told our audience he served as a page in the House of Representatives in the 1940s and was present when President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed a joint session of Congress on Dec. 8, 1941, a day after Japan’s attack on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor. He recalled protesting at the Japanese embassy and being present when the House voted to declare war, with one dissention.
Still active now, Amber DeGrandpre discussed the difficulties of transitioning back into civilian life. “You see roadkill on the street, and you think the city should clean it up. I see roadkill and wonder if there is an explosive in it,” she said. Because there were children in the Middle East who were trained to kill, DeGrandpre even now finds it difficult to be around young ones, and this also pains her.
John Paradis, a 20-year veteran, talked about the fact that war forever changed his grandfather; he became an alcoholic and an angry, almost frightening man. John served in a white-collar role in the wars, and he credited those, like Amber, who fought on the front lines with saving his life. He also gave credit to his wife and family, who helped him cope when he returned to civilian life each time.
In addition to making introductions and overseeing our event, our moderator, Jim Munroe, also told his personal story of being injured in a foxhole in Vietnam and how, even to date, his war experiences have changed his life and relationships. In particular, Jim talked about the intense and overriding fear he experienced—and his shame at being afraid. Given another full day, he said, he could also talk about healing.
Over 80 people attended our event, and 16 of them were veterans who we acknowledged by reading their names aloud.
We are proud of our veterans and our Glenmeadow Learning series in general. We are currently in the process of planning our talks for the spring and hope you stay tuned for the schedule.