This is Mike Hoey writing to you here.
It’s long been true of rural areas that they give disproportionately to the military, helping ensure the security of the country.
And that’s definitely true of the U.P.
It can sometimes be easy to neglect the sacrifices veterans have made.
But do U.P. veterans say we in the Upper Peninsula do that?
Part 1 of my week-long series, ‘Lest We Forget’, takes a look at that.
“Take your uniform off before you reach California, or else people will spit on it.”
That’s what Richard ‘Chic’ LaFave of Gwinn was told to do on his way back to the States from Vietnam.
He also says when he returned, he and other Vietnam vets didn’t enjoy the same level of support from the country as a whole that returning soldiers from World War II enjoyed, or that men and women in uniform coming back now from Iraq or Afghanistan receive.
But that seems to have been the exception rather than the rule.
The 2000 U.S. Census found more than 40,000 military veterans in the U.P.
That’s 1 out of every 6 adults.
The Michigan statewide average is 1 in 8.
Jim Shelly served in Vietnam 5 different times.
Both he and Chic belong to the Gwinn VFW post.
He thinks the people of the U.P. are something special, and he can’t say enough good things about them, then or now.
The same holds for the post commander.
Wally Kari says the group couldn’t survive for long without a lot of help.
He says veterans and non-veterans around the U.P. commonly work hand-in-hand to support community projects.
Serving not just area veterans, but also local students and nonprofit groups, is something the Gwinn post is known for.
They’ve won national awards from the VFW for it.
Kari can’t think of a better place to have been a veteran.
Even Chic has seen that outpouring of goodwill.
Besides Vietnam, he also served in Korea, and since he missed serving in World War II by just one year, he remembers well how the U.P. responded to ‘the big one’.
He says the people of the U.P. got behind the military “like you wouldn’t believe”.
Jack Hoag of Manistique served in Korea as well.
He’s the commander of the Manistique VFW post, and he’s grateful for backing from the Schoolcraft County business community.
Hoag says they help the post do things like collect dog collars for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan because when worn around the ankle, the collars keep sand fleas away.
Something else he appreciates…the interest in their major fundraiser of the year, the upcoming Mother’s Day weekend poppy sale.
But Chic and others have concern about younger veterans — not that they don’t care, but that with careers and families, they may not have the time to donate to veterans’ issues.
Chic says now that he’s in his 80s, he’s not sure how much energy he still has left to do that job.
U.P. veterans have a strong connection with their service officers, who help many of them receive care and benefits they wouldn’t otherwise have.
And I’ll explore that connection Tuesday night in Part 2 of ‘Lest We Forget’.