By Pat Kelly
VVA Life Member, Chapter 47 Founding Member
I was asked about the early days of this Chapter, and I guess being one of the few, if not the only one who was here from the start I will tell about the start of Chapter 47. Being alot older, and the memory not being what it once was, there may be a minor error or two.
Our Chapter started out as part of Chapter 19 in Anaheim, California. We did not have the thirty five members needed to start our own Chapter, and not having enough people, National knew us as Chapter 19B. In 1982 we had managed to find the 35 members needed, and we became the forty seventh Chapter in The Vietnam Veterans of America. There was a total of four Chapters in California, and the only ones at the time west of Colorado, but within months Chapter 19 was gone.
In the first days the Officers and Board met each month and passed the hat to get enough money to put out a newsletter, and pay for the stamps. Almost all of our members were making weekly trips to the Vietnam Veterans Outreach Center in Riverside. To say we were on shaky ground is a understatement, but none of us gave up. We lost alot of members, and got new members. We somehow managed to keep 35 members to maintain the Chapter.
In October 1982 at the Board meeting, we talked about having to do something to show our support for all of the Vietnam Veterans in Riverside and San Bernardino County. I don't remember who said " we need the parade we never got". None of us had ever done anything close putting on a parade, and had no idea what would be involved. This was our saving grace. If we had any idea we would have never started. The ideas flew like crazy. The idea grew to include a candle light service at the County Court House. Could we pull it off? We went to the City of Riverside and the County of Riverside to see what we had to do to have the parade. They told us we needed a parade permit, and an insurance bond. We needed security, and barriers put up. It all looked like more than we could handle. As we talked about it, everyone said it was something that had to be done.
Times were starting to change in the States. People's feeling toward Viet Nam Veterans had started to change. The Vietnam Memorial Wall was being built, and was to be dedicated in Wahington D.C. We had to do it. We went every where, and asked everyone. It started to come together. A local insurance Company paid the insurance bond for us. The City of Riverside let us borrow the barriers. The Boy Scouts of America and Police Scouts in Riverside told us they would come out and provide the security. A local Printing Company printed up flyers for free. The City and the County gave us the go ahead. The parade would start at the Riverside City College parking lot, go north on Magnolia, east on 14th Street, and north on Main Street to the Court House. Everything was now in place. The only problem was we had no parade. No floats, no bands, and no people.
The phone calls started coming in asking about the parade, and if they could be a part of it. First we had about a dozen Chapter members that said they would be there. Many of the members did not want to be in the parade, and did not go anywhere near anything to do with Veterans Day events. They still had too many things to deal with. We had calls from a local VFW and a Disabled American Veterans Chapter. A local High School Band called. Well, at least we had a band. Paula Kelly, my ex-wife, spent weeks making a banner for the Chapter. The large banner in green with white letters spelling out Vietnam Verterans of America Chapter 47, and gold emblems of each branch of service was sewn by hand.
The day finally came. It was 8:00 a.m. and no one was there. The parade was to start at 9:00 am. and go to 9:30 a.m. so everyone could get to the National Cemetery on time. Slowly the first people arrived. A High School band. Then the U.S. Air Force 15th Air Force Band. Suprise! No one told us about them coming. Hey, there's room. A Riverside City Fire truck. No problem! Just get in line. The California Highway Patrol. They brought the first Mustang pursuit car that just arrived the day before.
As we started out of the parking lot there were three people on the street. Not a good sign we thought. As we turned onto Magnolia Ave. we got a big suprise. The sidewalks were loaded with people. As we started to pass the people stood and cheered. There was only twelve to fifteen of us. The emotion was high. We had seen crowds before, but not waiving flags and cheering as they were this time. There were older people, and young adults. They brought their small children. As we moved along we saw Vietnam Veterans on the sidewalks, or relatives pointed them out. We told them come with us the parade was for them to. Most did not want to join us, but those in the parade with the help of relaitives beside them encuraged them to join. As we continue down the parade route our numbers grew. 20, 25, 30, and they kept growing to more than 50. I saw them with tears in their eyes, and some with tears running down their face. It is impossible to explain the pride we had, and the long over due recognition that was finally given to these men. It was a welcome home for all of us.
The parade came to an end. We went to the National Cemetary, and for some of us saw our first ceremony. Later in the evening we went to the Court House, and with over two hundred people lit candles to remember those of us that did not return. The day was over. We rode high from that day forward. We knew we were now home with honor.
Many years have gone by. The Chapter has had many great leaders, and done many great things. I like many others have faded into the Chapter memory as a sendom seen Life Member. My thoughts are always with the Chapter, and with retirement coming soon look forward to being able to be with the Chapter again. This was only one story of the start of the Chapter. There are many more, but I hope this one gives members who have come later an idea of what has, and still does make this such a great Chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America.
Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 47
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