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Friday, Aug. 22, 2014

Ross Rambles: Unwarranted criticism

Monday, August 13, 2007

(Photo)
Last month, two angry letters to the editor criticized the Cherokee County Fair Board for charging $150 per day plus electricity to the group responsible for bringing the traveling Vietnam Wall to Cherokee.

The wall is a smaller sized replica of the original wall in Washington, D.C. and will be in Cherokee for five days, Sept. 13 through 17.

Members of the fair board have shown restraint and wisdom in not responding to the criticism. However, no one has ever accused me of being either restrained or wise.

The Cherokee County Fair Board is not a government entity although it receives some of its funds from the county and is responsible for overseeing activities on property that belongs to the county.

The activities overseen by the fair board do not generate a profit. Organizations wanting to use the fairgrounds are charged a fee that helps offset some of the cost of maintaining the facility.

Usually, the organizations that use the fairgrounds are non-profit organizations headed by people who don't expect to use the grounds for free because of their non-profit status.

For example, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation will be holding its annual Rock the Block fund raising dance at the fairgrounds on Aug. 18, paying the standard fee. No one from that organization accused the fair board of being indifferent to the plight of children with a devastating disease, but that is the kind of blindsiding attack that fair board members endured for charging a fee to those bringing the Vietnam Wall to Cherokee.

The first letter, from Pat Miller of Cleghorn, was bizarre, comparing the daily charge of $150 for renting the fairgrounds to the charge of $15 for a campsite at Spring Lake Park. Miller cannot possibly think that all the activities planned to accompany the arrival of the wall could take place at a campsite. The comparison is simply not rational.

A subsequent letter from Jim Weins of Cherokee showed that his perception of the fair board's actions is colored by bitter memories of his experiences during the Vietnam era. He said, "I spent two tours in Vietnam. When I came home, I had eggs thrown at the bus on my way to the airport. In the airport, I was spit on and called a baby killer. When I was in Cherokee at a bar, I told someone I just got back from Vietnam. She threw a drink in my face and called me a baby killer."

Why would Weins bring up such experiences in a letter about the fair board charging for the wall to be at the fairgrounds unless he thought there was at least some degree of similarity between the hostile acts he experienced decades ago and the actions of the fair board members?

My personal experience of the Vietnam era was that the war was winding down when I received my draft number of 333, ensuring that I would not go to Vietnam unless I had a desire to do so.

My brother, less than two years older than me, did go to Vietnam, not out of any sense of patriotic duty but simply as the best of three options -- go to Vietnam, go to Canada or go to prison.

He never talked about being spit on or called a baby killer, but then he wouldn't likely mention it even if it occurred. Personally, I had always thought of such tales as urban legend, a metaphor for people who went away to perform heroic deeds but who came home as something other than heroes.

I do not know Jim Weins well but he strikes me as an honest person, so if he says that he experienced overt hostility on at least three occasions as a result of his being a Vietnam veteran, I have to accept that as true.

Still, I have to think such hostile people were a tiny minority of the population. Most people had at least one relative or close friend who had served or was serving in Vietnam. Vietnam veterans were respected by the vast majority of people, even those deeply opposed to the war, which included an increasing number of Vietnam vets toward the latter part of the ten-year conflict.

Those who served in the latter stages of the war tended to be less bitter about the final outcome, being less likely to have delusions that we were establishing a bastion of democracy in a country populated primarily by illiterate peasants. Although not having delusions prevents the embittering experience of having the delusions shattered, it must have made the actual experience of the war much bleaker - being there for no other reason than the government requiring it.

There is no "one Vietnam experience." People are complicated and something as dramatic as war will affect different people different ways, even when they have similar experiences. For some, the scars never heal.