By Craig Moorhead

The Caledonia Argus

“We want to establish a memorial to all veterans that served, anywhere,” VFW Post 6801 (Brownsville) commander Shawn Virock told community members last Memorial Day. 

Fellow VFW member Ed Gittens, another Vietnam vet,  has been doing research on the project. He spoke to the Argus recently.

“There’s just a point in time, and we’ve reached that, where people want closure with the events of their life, not just veterans,” Gittens said. “And I sense that there’s that spirit in the air, that’s helping drive this.  

“I’m an infantryman myself. I was slightly wounded in action, but half of my platoon was killed or wounded... When I went through treatment, I never really thought about it, but we had – in one night – 30 killed and 82 wounded. I left that base three hours or so before it got wiped out, literally.

“This isn’t a guilt trip, this is an awareness thing. In my family, we have a long history of service, along with many other (local) families. I would like to help bring the public to that awareness. And this Brownsville memorial is certainly about that.”

Discussions among VFW members on the project actually began about two years ago, Gittens said. Since then: “The community of Brownsville has shown me their heart in that they were waiting for the right situation,” he added. 

Last fall the memorial group held an impromptu  fund raiser for the project. “It was unbelievably successful, and that told me something - that even though we had a very small turnout with almost no advertising - we raised about $1,800 in about four hours.” That fund now totals approximately $5000.

“What it told me was, these people give a hoot, and want to do something...” Gittens said. “The American Legion from Houston donated $500 at their last meeting... There’s some real great energy in the air.

Vietnam veterans are stepping up to help. “A couple years ago it was the 50th anniversary of what I call the first wave of Vietnam, or the first stage,” Gittens recalled. “I call that stage the Holy Crusade, followed by the Bloody Middle, and finally the Realization of the Reality... I was in the tail end.”

 The site that’s now being considered for the new memorial is on the grounds of the Brownsville Community Center, north of the east parking lot.  

“We want people to know that we’d like their input on the nature and the appearance of this monument, and any information on things that the community would want to be included,” Gittens stated. “Also, we would like to know the names of people (veterans) that we might not have come in contact with. I’ve run into a tremendous amount of that already...

“What we’d like to do is present the reality of what service has meant to this community.  

“A lot of people take freedom for granted, during their day to day routines and everything. But if you’ve ever been in a combat zone, you know what un-freedom is.   

“Brownsville is a peaceful community, but there isn’t peace all over, everywhere, at any given time... And for one reason or another we’ve wound up involved in various places for various reasons, and then pay the price. 

“Freedom includes the right to walk the streets and look the way you want to look and talk the way you want to talk... These people gave honorable service, in faith to their country... 

“Veterans aren’t the only purveyors of freedom, but I’ll tell you one thing, we’d have never had it if it wasn’t for our founding fathers being veterans.

“Each step of the way, it’s easier to lose the back-trail of history...  In Brownsville, there’s been a melding of the community and this VFW chapter. It’s been noticeable.  That part makes me feel good. We’ve got to start someplace, and we may as well do that close to home.”

Tragically, in the United States, an average of 22 veterans commit suicide every day. “There’s something that needs to be addressed about veterans,” Gittens noted. “If we can bring awareness to veterans we can bring compassion. That’s a key to healing.”

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