On April 11 at 6:00 p.m., in cooperation with Virginia Humanities and Longwood University, Home and Abroad continued its spring program, “Expanding the Audience for Veterans Voices,” with an opening event at the Central Virginia Regional Library (1303 Main Street, Farmville).
Dr. Michael Lund, Professor Emeritus of Longwood University, began the event with a brief presentation:
“Shaking the Hand of History.”
Thank you all for coming this evening. And special thanks to the people who have made this event possible: Rich Ewing and Morgan Hayes here at the library,. Alix Fink, Associate Provost for Research and Academic Initiatives at Longwood, Longwood student Emelio Salgado Garcia,, Matthew Gibson, and Carolyn Cades at Virginia Humanities; and my fellow veterans in the community.
I want to speak briefly about how Home and Abroad, a free writing program for military veterans and family, began, where the program stands right now, and what are my hopes for the future.
To start, I need to go back some five decades to this man.
You should recognize Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th President of the United States. As you know, he ascended to the office at the age of 55 when JFK was assassinated in Dallas.
Texas, Nov. 1963. Johnson was elected on his own in 1964 but decided not to run again in 1968.
Now, it’s unlikely that you know this much younger man, who grew up in a small town in south central Missouri; but his picture was taken about the same time as the one of LBJ.
Hey, wait a minute! That’s me! Now, what would these two have in common?
Well, it’s almost hard for me still to believe but it’s true: I shook the hand of arguably the most powerful person on the planet. Let me tell you how it happened, and then I’ll explain how I got the story of this event wrong for many years.
In the mid-1960s, I’m a student at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. And on a night in January or February or something, I’m in my dorm room working calculus problems.
A friend Bill Niblack came to the door and said, “Let’s go meet the President.”
“Sure,” I said, wondering what sort of fantasy he was entertaining. He had heard that LBJ was coming to the Chase Park Plaza Hotel with two goals: one was political, developing his campaign; but the other reassuring the nation and the world by his travels that, despite the fact that our President had been killed on our own soil, we were a stable country with strong ,capable leadership.
So, there I was: on one the hand, calculus homework; on the other, basically goofing off. It only took a moment to grab my winter coat, follow Bill outside into his blue 1959 Ford, and spin across Forest Park to see what we could see.
A crowd perhaps of hundreds had gathered along the street that faced the hotel, gazing at the curved drive going up to and away from the hotel entrance. Our goal was simply to see the President. More than that was unimaginable. And after, let’s say 45 minutes or so, we saw the hotel doors open and people coming out toward the motorcade in the curved drive.
And in that group, at its center, was the President who raised his hand and waved at the crowd. OK! Mission accomplished. Time for calculus.
But then the President and some of his staff walked across the space between the motorcade and us. LBJ was shaking hands with people on the sidewalk. And moving, believe it or not, toward Bill and me. We held our ground among the shifting, jostling crowd as he got closer, and closer, and almost upon us, and then right in front of us. And at that moment I shook the hand of the President of the United States.
At least that’s how I described it for several years before I realized I hadn’t understood the event: what really happened is that LBJ grabbed my hand and pulled, dragged, pushed me into history. You see, within a few years I received a letter from the President that began: “Greetings. You have been selected to serve in the nation’s armed forces.” I’ve always loved that: “selected, picked, chosen.” I was drafted.
Why didn’t I see that the agent of action that winter night was not young Michael Lund, college student, but older powerful Lyndon Baines Johnson, leader of the free world? Well, I have to confess that up until the time of calculus I had played little attention to current events. My focus was closer. For example, in my Western Civilization Course, where I might have learned plenty about the larger world, I had a tendency to focus on Sally Starr (that’s star with two r’s), an attractive English major with whom I desperately wanted a date. Her light shone brightly, but far above my orbit.
This, in the end, was not terrible because I was being saved for an even more beautiful and smart young biology major in faraway Virginia—in fact, at Longwood College.
Wait! I think she’s here tonight.
If I’d been a better student in St. Louis in the mid-1960’s, I would have known more where Southeast Asia was and why there was such talk about what was happening there. In a few years, I would be in South Vietnam myself, because of that second handshake.
One of the men I served with had paid more attention to history than I had. Bernard
Edelman grew up in the housing projects of Brooklyn’s Canarsie neighborhood, graduated from
Thomas Jefferson High School, and received his B.A. from City University of New York in 1968. On January 8, 1969, he was drafted into the United States Army and served, as I did, as an Army correspondrnt in Vietnam.
A few years after his return to the States, he was named to the New York Vietnam
Veterans Memorial Commission by then-mayor Ed Koch and subsequently edited the book Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam, a collection of correspondence by men and women that is one of the most powerful, influential, and important books ever written about that war.
He was doing then what Home and Abroad is trying to do now: give the voices of those who have served the nation at home and abroad an audience.
Home and Abroad, however, is not interested only in military service overseas; we think the accounts of those who wait and work at home are vital. Especially important to me are the contributions veterans and family members make to their communities after they’ve served, as is the case with another veteran some of you may have known:
I first met him in Prince Edward County Public Elementary School sometime in the 1980s. We both had children in the third grade, and he and I volunteered to go with their class on a field trip. I wish I could tell you where, but, not an experienced chaperone, I worried more about what was going on in the bus than wherever we went. Along the way, though, Vince and I shared some stories about our different backgrounds as we rode to and from wherever it was we went.
Now, this man knew earlier than I did about the forces of history changing life’s course. He lost four years of formal education when Prince Edward County closed its public schools as part of the South’s“ massive resistance” to integration. History had shaken the boy Vince by the hand.
Still, he completed high school only to taken by the hand a second time when he was drafted and served with distinction as a SP/4 in the United States Army.. On June 5, 1969 in Hue, Vietnam, Vincent was wounded in battle and suffered nearly life-ending injuries.
When I learned of the life challenges he had faced and overcome, I assumed he must have felt resentment at how outside events had affected him; if so, it never showed. He was always kind, generous, friendly. As a fellow member of Veterans of Foreign Wars Farmville Post 7059, I often joined him in volunteer projects. The post had a food shack for many years at the Five County Fair, and Vince usually handled the French fry/onion ring part of the operation. I volunteered as his assistant so I could learn more about this man’s exemplary life. I also asked him a number of times to write about his experiences in a Home and Abroad workshop.
He surprised me by saying that, if he did write, he would tell about the good times of his Army experience, not the bad ones. I was surprised that he could focus on the camaraderie, meeting people from different backgrounds, the chance to see the world rather than the misfortunes he had overcome. His obituary explains: “He was the epitome of sacrifice and toughness, but he never considered himself a hero. He reserved that label for others, including those who lost their lives in battle.” It also notes that “he was first and foremost a dedicated husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. He was a kind man and exuded a low key, quiet strength that commanded respect.” The obituary concludes that “Vincent was a gentle soul with a great sense of humor . . . well-liked and respected in the community. He often donated his time and energy to community activities, including chaperoning ski trips with the elementary school principal. . . . wherever it was! . . placing America flags at the cemetery for Veterans on Memorial and Veteran’s Day, cutting grass, parking cars, driving the church van, his commitment was bottomless. . . . The scriptures encourage us to become like Jesus Christ and ‘to walk, even as he walked’ (1 John2:6). Vincent was a perfect example of someone who walked in the footsteps of Christ.”
Sadly, Vince passed away before I could convince him to tell his story, a story that should have been heard. He might be, however, an inspiration for some of you—veterans or members of a veteran’s family—to take one of the brochures we have laid for you, which outline the Home and Abroad writing program and include my contact information, and talk with me about your experience. And as you can see, you don’t have to write about your military experience. There are other stories., Those who have taken the opportunity —and you see others samples in our display—feel a satisfaction about putting their thoughts in a order; and those who are privileged to read, learn about sacrifice, achievement, citizenship.
Please watch Anita Carroll discuss broad project here;
Dr. Lund’s project was funded by a Virginia Humanities’ “Rapid Grant” for Spring 2023. His Home and Abroad program received an earlier Virginia Humanities award in 2019, which aided the printing and distribution of the written works of Southside Virginia veterans and their families.
Professor Lund founded Home and Abroad in 2015 to provide veterans with group and individual instruction in writing and to help citizens appreciate military history. “I feel that citizenship in a country with an all-volunteer military mandates civilian understanding of what is undertaken to protect the nation’s way of life,” Dr. Lund states. He served as an Army correspondent in Vietnam.
Home and Abroad encourages those who served at home and supported those on deployment to write about their contributions also. The exhibit also opened in the Nottoway County Public LIbrary in Crewe on April 18. The exhibiot opening in Buckinham on April 26 can be seen here ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xr67DildB8E\
Longwood Library, March 13