The Haviland American Legion Post #157 braved 100-degree temperatures last Saturday to hand out medals to local Vietnam veterans in an intimate ceremony in downtown Haviland.
A small group of county residents milled about in front of Origin’s Coffee House on Main Street around 10 a.m., the last oasis of morning shade. Area children clamored for a seat on the riding lawnmower powered pull-car, driven by Legion Commander Bud Boman. Following a brief parade, the crowd moved to the nearby park, where local Vietnam veterans received a long-awaited honor ceremony.
Legion Post Adjutant Rodney Hannan helped organize the event beginning in April (see ‘Vietnam Veterans to be honored by Haviland Legion’ April 25, 2012 - Kiowa County Signal). “Any Vietnam veteran or family member that wants to come here and be part of the celebration is welcome,” Hannan said.
Twelve veterans were honored at Saturday’s ceremony.
Carl Woods, commander of the 7th Kansas American Legion District — which includes Haviland and Kiowa County — and Kansas Commission of Veterans Affairs Rep. Wayne Bollig handed out nine medals to the attending veterans.
“I want to thank everyone for coming out in the heat today, thank god we have a breeze,” said Woods. “Someone said this was 46 years in the making. We won’t relive that story but it is never too late.”
Chaplain Alvin Crisp gave moving opening and closing prayers.
“Heavenly father, we come today to say thank you for each of these veterans. They answered the call to serve their country during that dark period,” said Crisp. “Lord, you know of the sacrifices of home and family that were made, especially those that gave their lives. We thank you for them and for their service.”
Robert Ahrens, Boman, Michael Case, John Gibson, Melvin Hickey, Wesley Jantz, Paul Lewis, Joseph Marraccino and Edward Schoenberger were presented with a medallion, a ribbon and a certificate.
Samuel Bucher, Charles Larrick and Michael Montgomery were also honored, but were not in attendance to receive their medallions.
“When I came back from my 18 months in Vietnam, what was available was something called the G.I. Bill,” said Woods. “I took full advantage. I went to college, got a degree and I bought my first home with a V.A. loan. The guys that made that possible are like the guy I’m going to give this next award to.”
Woods honored Haviland World War II veteran and Haviland American Legion 2nd Vice Commander Dean Chenoweth for his 67 years of service to the American Legion.
“When he came back from WWII he joined the American Legion,” said a teary-eyed Woods. “That is the reason we still have a G.I. Bill today. I owe this man a thank you. Without the GI Bill that he kept strong for me, my life would have been as good. With great appreciation, and I mean this from my heart, thank you for your years of service. It’s an honor.”
Woods also honored Richard “Dick” Robbins for his generosity and contributions to the American Legion Child Welfare Foundation. The organization founded by the American Legion, which lists its mission as providing “…other nonprofit organizations with the means to educate the public about the special needs of children across this nation.”
Robbins was not present to receive his plaque.
Following the ceremony, attendees enjoyed hamburgers and hot dogs, compliments of the Haviland Fire Department.
“This program is doing something that should have been done for a long time,” said Bollig of Kansas Veteran Services who has attended eight ceremonies since the medallion program became funded last year. “I get to meet a lot of great people. For me, every time I do one of these I feel special. Most of the ceremonies are in small communities like here in Haviland. The smaller communities are, for me, the most fun to do. It’s more intimate and I have the time to spend with the veterans.”
Bollig said that his office has handed out more than 2,500 medallians, though a majority of them, approximately 1,500, have been mailed and not presented in public ceremonies.
“It’s about getting them to the veterans,” he added. “But these are wonderful because of the community turnout, no matter the size. It is not just the handful of veterans receiving the medallions, but members of the community that come out and thank the veterans. When I did a ceremony in Independence, we had 50-60 people show up for the five veterans who received medals. I think that’s great. It’s not about a single person, standing up and making a speech. It’s about the veterans. That’s the way most of the communities do it, and that’s the way I like it.”
With still thousands of eligible veterans, many who moved to Kansas after serving, yet to receive their medallions, Bollig was asked how his office views the success of the program.
“I will gage it as successful when every veteran that is entitled to a medal receives a medal,” he said. “But, as long as we have vets who are applying for the medallions, we are achieving success.”