Vietnam veterans enjoy brotherhood and good barbecue

Many military veterans and their families gather at Tonaquint Park for the Vietnam Veterans of America Barbeque, St. George, Utah, Apr. 14, 2016| Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News
Many military veterans and their families gather at Tonaquint Park for the Vietnam Veterans of America barbecue, St. George, Utah, April 14, 2016| Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — More than 100 military veterans and their families gathered at Tonaquint Park in St. George Thursday evening for a Vietnam Veterans of America barbecue and picnic featuring live music, food and camaraderie.

While the picnic was organized by the Vietnam Veterans of America, Southern Utah, Chapter 961, anyone who served in the military were welcome to attend. It was the second year for this event and all were welcome regardless of rank, military branch, war or conflict they may have served in.

“It’s just a way for us to get together and share our experiences,” Vietnam veteran and co-organizer Larry Harris said, “and to feel good about what we did a long time ago.”

Veteran Ernie Aguayo, co-organizing the event for the second time, cooked for the picnic. He chose Tonaquint Park as the venue for primarily for its large pavilion and location, he said.

Vietnam veterans cooking at the Vietnam Veterans of America Barbecue, Tonaquint Park, St. George, Utah, Apr. 14, 2016| Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News
Vietnam veterans cooking at the Vietnam Veterans of America barbecue, Tonaquint Park, St. George, Utah, April 14, 2016| Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Timothy Izatt is retired from the Army, having served in Vietnam as a mortarman. He joined the local chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America in 2015 because he enjoyed the brotherhood he found in the group, he said, and sharing similar experiences with others who had served in Vietnam.

With a deep sense of gratitude for living through the experiences of war, particularly during the Vietnam era, Izatt openly explained his philosophy.

“I’m one of the lucky ones, because 57,000 of us didn’t make it home,” he said, “but I did. So, I’m just trying to pay it forward.”

Izatt fishes in Alaska every year and recently returned with a large amount of Alaskan Salmon that he donated to the gathering. He also helped with the cooking.

Judy Halford "entertaining the troops" at the Vietnam Veterans of America Barbeque, Tonaquint Park, St. George, Utah, Apr. 14, 2016| Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News
Judy Halford “entertaining the troops” at the Vietnam Veterans of America barbecue, Tonaquint Park, St. George, Utah, April 14, 2016 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Veteran Joe Wells joined the team as yet another cook. He served in the United States Army, 173rd Airborne Division, during Vietnam.

“I’m here gathering with buddies,” Wells said, “and mingling with the guys from the Afghan war, Iraqi war and all of our brothers.”

Many military families were affected during the Vietnam war and many wives also found themselves in need of support – support they found in each other when they started getting together many years ago, Cindi Wells said.

Groups of wives began forming as a way to deal with similar issues. They found support and tools that helped them cope in the aftermath of the conflict, Wells said. They also used those tools to help and support their husbands.

“We have been in groups together and found that we have a lot in common as well,” Wells said, “and that we aren’t alone.”

The timing for the event could not have been better.  This year, 2016, marks the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam conflict. Of the 9 million men and women who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces during America’s involvement in Vietnam, from November 1, 1955, to May 15, 1975, approximately 7.2 million veterans are living today.

Vietnam Veterans of America is a nonprofit organization formed in 1978 by a small group of veterans in an effort to address the needs of those who served and were affected by the conflict in Vietnam. The group strives to support and promote issues that are important to Vietnam veterans, to help create a new identity for the current generation of veterans and to change public perception of Vietnam veterans. Its full range of goals also aim to help Vietnam veterans have access to health care and to serve the community.

The organization’s mantra is:

Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.

Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 961 member, Vietnam Veterans of America Barbeque, Tonaquint Park, St. George, Utah, Apr. 14, 2016| Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News
Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 961 member, Vietnam Veterans of America barbecue, Tonaquint Park, St. George, Utah, April 14, 2016| Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News
More than 100 veterans and their families attend the Vietnam Veterans of America Barbeque, Tonaquint Park, St. George, Utah, Apr. 14, 2016| Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News
More than 100 veterans and their families attend the Vietnam Veterans of America barbecue, Tonaquint Park, St. George, Utah, April 14, 2016| Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News
Many military veterans and their families gather at Tonaquint Park for the Vietnam Veterans of America Barbeque, St. George, Utah, Apr. 14, 2016| Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News
Many military veterans and their families gather at Tonaquint Park for the Vietnam Veterans of America Barbeque, St. George, Utah, Apr. 14, 2016| Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News
L-R: Kileigh Humphrey and Ava Geeitsen enjoying the picnic with their family, Vietnam Veterans of America Barbeque, St. George, Utah, Apr. 14, 2016| Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News
L-R: Kileigh Humphrey and Ava Geeitsen enjoying the picnic with their family, Vietnam Veterans of America barbecue, St. George, Utah, April 14, 2016| Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Email: cblowers@stgnews.com

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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