The Next Generation Veterans honored those who came before them during a tribute to service members who served in the Vietnam War last Wednesday evening at the Heritage Center. The evening was hosted in partnership with the Veterans Council and the Cultural Council of Indian River County.
Veterans who served in World War II through to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan gathered to raise funds to construct the Next Generation Veterans’ monument “Words from War.” The monument was designed by world-renowned monument artist Ross Power, according to Bruce Cady, Veterans Council director of operations.
Through the veterans’ partnership with the Cultural Council, a call for artists was sent out, and Vietnam War-era-themed art created by local artists was auctioned off. Pieces included the winning entry by Grace Dooley entitled “Men of War,” along with works by local artists, including veterans and civilians. One rather patriotic collage of army men was submitted by the child of an Iraq War veteran.
The Cultural Council has earmarked funds raised for programming specific to veterans to promote reintegration and raise awareness about the experiences and the struggles of this segment of the population.
“The connection between the arts and the military has always been strongly rooted in shared history that we have as a people and a nation,” noted Barbara Hoffman, Cultural Council of IRC executive director. As examples she points to the music of “America the Beautiful,” the painting of Washington crossing the Delaware, photographs of U.S. Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima, and deployed soldiers strumming guitars for respite and solace.
Hoffman continued, “Art defines our human experience and every solemn or joyous occasion we have in our national family and individual lives.
“For service members, veterans and their families, participation in the arts ̶ whether for expressing, educational, recreational or therapeutic purposes ̶ is proven to build resilience, enhance coping skills, increase self-esteem and generate well-being.”
The central theme of the evening was based around the documentary film “A Bond Unbroken,” which chronicles a reunion 40 years in the making. Retired members of the Vietnam-era U.S. Navy SEALs discovered their combat interpreter, Nguyen Hoang Minh, is still living. Reunited, they discover that the bond forged all those years ago during the conflict is as strong as ever. The SEAL community created a fund to see to Minh’s care for the rest of his life.
Film director Mary Ann Koenig, producer Rick Dobbis and Ret. Navy SEAL Captains Pete Peterson, Rick Woolard and Ron Yeaw chatted with the audience about the impact Minh made on their lives and his contributions to the war effort.
“He probably had more SEAL operations, and more SEAL experience than any SEAL has ever had,” noted Peterson. “A number of Navy SEALs have told me that Minh saved their lives. I think there are a lot of us that don’t know that he saved our lives. He had such situational awareness. We were able to operate in a way that was much less risky because of the information Minh had.”
The bond forged in combat lost none of its potency over the years and is a fitting representation of the camaraderie and support created among the veteran community in Indian River County, whether it’s from the veterans themselves, the community at large or through the support of art-based programs.
To learn more about the Cultural Council, visit cultural-council.org and for information about the Veterans Council of IRC visit veteranscouncilirc.org or nextgenveterans.org.