May'05--Jun'05

We headed up to Lake Sydney Lanier, Cumming, Ga. to visit with Kate & her family. Also to visit Ken Brenner. About 3 years ago I received an email from Ken. He had discovered my site on the web. We began exchanging emails and became "Email pen pals". And now we are finally getting the opportunity to meet. Arrived at Bald Ridge Campground and it was very nice. It is a COE (Corps of Engineers) park. Ken came up and we had a great meeting. He is a very nice guy and hopefully we will meet again sometime. He has been hiking the Appalachian Trail in segments and always sends me his pics from the latest leg. Beautiful scenery and he does a good job of capturing it all.

We went over to Kate's house and her mom (Patsy, who lives outside of Birmingham, Al) was there. Kate's daughter, Laura, is a spitting image of Kate when she was a little girl. I could not get over that. Laura thought I should hold all her toys and she proceeded to stack them in my lap. We enjoyed the visit with Kate, Dean (Kate's hubby), son--Tommy, Laura & Patsy. They are our family as much as anyone could be without being actually related.

 

Next we moved on to the Noccalula Falls Park in Gadsen, Al. to visit PJ (Kate's sister) & her family--Josie & Ben, & Clint (PJs friend). Patsy was back home by then so we got to visit with her again. They all came over to the park as the area has an old settlement, miniature train rides, petting zoo and non-petting type animals. It is very scenic with the falls. The campground is well kept. Another day we went to PJ's house and Patsy's husband, Joe, was there so we got to see everybody. We took a drive thru Blount County to see the covered bridges. This is a beautiful area and worth a visit if any of you are interested.

TV quit while we were here. Had to buy a new one at Wal-Mart. Of course it didn't match the hole in the cabinet so I had to do some modifying to make it stay put while traveling. We thought about getting a flat screen LCD but weren't ready yet to spend that kind of money. Maybe by the time this new one quits they will be down in price or something newer & greater will be on the market.

While at the park, Kay took the truck for a trip to the store. In backing out she backed straight into a tree. Few scrapes on the bumper and bent it down a bit. I looked underneath and it looked like I could just loosen the bolts and straighten it up. BUT--I don't have a set of metric sockets so it can wait until we get to Illinois.

 

Then off to Branson, Mo for the "Vietnam Vet's Homecoming" with a mandatory stop at the casinos in Tunica. On the way there we stayed off the interstates and enjoyed the countryside. At one turnoff it wasn't marked and we drove on by even tho the GPS indicated a turn. First place we found to turn around was the parking lot of the local utility co. Looked like I could go up one row, turn and come back out. Until we got to the end of the row and saw the fence with barbed wire on top, leaning out. It was going to be tight. Halfway into the turn I had to back a little and then go. One of the employees was out there and I asked him if was clear. He said yes, but what about the truck you hit. WHAT!!! Turns out that I was watching the front & barbed wire so much that I forgot to watch the back as I swung around. Caught the bumper of a truck and crunched one of my bay doors and cracked some of the fiberglass. Scratched the truck bumper. I told Kay I did that so she would feel better about the truck. I don't think she believed me.

Kay's luck was not working at Tunica and we left for Branson early. Figured it would be cheaper to pay for a campground than have her continue gambling.

 

Arrived at Branson early so Kay volunteered to help the "Welcome Home" committee get things ready. Lots of envelope stuffing, etc. We did the 'tourist' thing that week as we knew the next week would be busy. I got an email from a member of RV.NET, a forum I visit regularly and he was coming to the park in a few days. Mike Halley, Pam & Lucy (dog) arrived, we met and I feel I have a friend for life. We hit it off right away. They were parked 2 spaces away from us which was convenient. Spent a lot of time together during this event. 2 days later their friends Clint, Jill, Sara (dog) Bauman arrived and took the space between Mike & us.

Also a friend of mine from Ca., Mike Dwyer, flew in and spent the week in a cabin across from us. It was good to see him again.

First week we got a call from Kay's brother, John (in Effingham, Il), and they had just tested him and he has lung cancer. NOT ANOTHER ONE! Damn--this is getting awful. I know we are all getting older but this many within 6 months, you just don't expect that or plan for it. He said there was no rush to get there as he had more tests to take before deciding on what to do.

First night of the 'Welcome Home' they had a show in one of the theaters and explained about the week. They had a central area (Grand Palace) for checking in, booths, Huey rides, the Moving Wall and other stuff. The main event would be on saturday--the all day concert. We looked around the central area and I ran into a couple of people I know. Also met a biker, Spaz, that was in Ia Drang Valley when I was. The first checkin day was so busy that Kay volunteered again to help them out. Next day we did what I had been looking forward to doing since I first heard about the event. The Huey ride! I got to ride in the gunner's seat which is where I always rode in Nam. When we rode in Nam the gunner was at the end of the long seat and his M-60 was hanging from a 'bungee' type cord. So we used the 2 (on each side) jump seats. This time they had the gunner solid mount by the jump seats but I didn't care. I always loved riding the Hueys and today was no different. One other difference was we had to use seatbelts this time. Kay, Mike D. & I went together.

All during the week, strangers would come up and say "Welcome Home" & "Thank You" & give us hugs. It meant a lot. If you know a Viet Vet, the next time you see him/her tell them "Welcome Home" & give them a hug.

On friday they had a parade for us. Lots of units represented. Good crowds and lots of "Thank You" hollered at us. Gave me goosebumps and I just got them again while writing this. There were some active duty military there providing security, keeping people on the sidewalk, etc. What I thought was amazing was this was a long overdue parade for Vietnam Vets but throughout the parade the vets were hollering at the active duty people and thanking them for their service. And they deserved it. Lots more info on this site: http://www.operationhomecomingusa.com/  After the parade I went to a motel where the 1st Cav was meeting and ran into Jim Hibbetts who was also in Ia Drang .

On saturday---the concert. It turned out we had 2 extra tickets so we called Bob & Donna as they were only about 1 1/2 hrs away and told them to 'come on down'. They got here on fri and stayed in the cabin with Mike. At 11AM sat Kay, me, Bob, Donna & Mike D. headed to Saddlebrooke for the concert. We parked and they bused us to the hilltop and we found a good place to sit. About an hour later Mike, Pam & Jill arrived and sat by us. All kinds of things happening all day long. I'll try to just hit on the main things.

I talked B&D into going on a Huey ride. They were kind of hesitant but when they got back they were so glad they did it.

Some of the acts or guests were: Tony Orlando (put on a great show), 5th Dimension, Joey Dee, Oak Ridge Boys, Four Tops, Supremes, Adrian Cronaur, Creedence Clearwater Revisited, Beach boys, Doobie Bros, Yakov Smirnov, Ann-Margret. Had  videos from Pres. Bush, troops in Iraq & Afghanistan, VA Sec'y Nicholson, 4 Generals.

One gentleman took the stage and said something like, "World War II veterans were 'the greatest generation', Korean War veterans were the 'forgotten veterans', but Vietnam veterans were the most disrespected and unwelcome of  any veterans in the history of this nation. But no more - not after today!"  That brought everyone to their feet for a rousing cheer! And it really felt good to be there at that moment.

Flyovers: Blackhawk, f-15's, Marine Osprey helicopters, Marine C-130's, A-10's, AirGuard helicopters, Coast guard, B-52, F-4, Spooky, Sky Raider (my favorite as they are the ones that dropped the napalm to get the NVA off of us in Ia Drang), B-2.

They even had a battle reenactment that brought tears to my eyes.

They ended the evening at about 10PM with a fireworks show.

All in all an awesome day!!!!!

During the week you would see some vets that had a hard time getting around due to age, injuries. When one was struggling there were 2 or 3 vets there to help him right away. Didn't matter if they knew them or not. You see, we looked out for each other in the war, and we're still there for each other today.

 Later                  Pictures