The picnic was held on the grounds of the Veterans Administration Medical Center in St. Albans and was attended by nearly 100 veterans.
“There’s a very deep camaraderie that exists between G.I.’s,” said 68-year-old Vietnam veteran Gerald Francis Laws, who is living in St. Albans Community Living Center while he looks for permanent housing. “We trust each other and expect each other to help all the time.”
And help each other they did.
Chapter 32 members, many of whom are in their 60s as well, grilled, served and mingled with fellow veterans as the Doo Wop band, The Renditions, entertained the crowd.
“We’re here to show the guys they’re not alone,” said Mike Daughtry, Chapter 32 second vice president. “A lot of them have no families, so they end up here. For many, this is their last stop.”
When the first picnic was held in the 90s, Vietnam veterans were serving Korean War and even World War II veterans. Now they increasingly find they are helping their own.
“Unfortunately, a lot of our guys are now in the homes,” said Middle Village resident John Rowan, national president of Vietnam Veterans of America. “And it’s going to be more and more of our guys.”
In addition to the Labor Day picnic, Chapter 32 veterans host events at the St. Albans facility on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Valentine’s Day.
Frank Nazario is a homeless Desert Storm veteran struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse. For him the picnic is a welcome break from therapy and counseling.
“It’s beautiful, I love it,” he said. “It’s a good motivation to turn our lives around.”
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that nearly 58,000 veterans are homeless on any given night.
One of those is Lawyer Anderson, a 64-year-old Vietnam-era veteran who, like Nazario, is enjoying a respite from homelessness at the Community Living Center.
“This brightens our day,” he said about the picnic. “It gives us hope.”