By Charlotte Underwood
LAFOLLETTE, TN (WLAF) – A bus load of 52 La Follette High School Vietnam Veterans and family members traveled to the Medal of Honor Heritage Center in Chattanooga on Wednesday.
Upon their return, Sheriff Robbie Goins and members of the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office provided an escort with lights and sirens.
The trip was organized by Vietnam Vetereran Marvin Bolinger and three other veterans.
According to Bolinger the day trip was all about “connecting Vietnam Veterans with one another and honoring them for their service.”
“Many of these veterans have never been shown gratitude for their service,” Bolinger said. Which is why he and a couple of other vets put together a budget for the bus trip to the Medal of Honor Heritage Center and catered a fried chicken and ham lunch.
“It was a chance to give back and show them how much we appreciate them,” Bolinger said, adding that it is important to honor Vietnam Veterans and learn their stories as many are passing away.
More than three million Americans were sent to Vietnam, and today there are only around 600,000 left.
Campbell County Vietnam Vetereran J.W. Faulkner was among the veterans on the trip. Born and raised in La Follette, Faulkner went to Vietnam in 1969. He was in the Army Aviation division and “on helicopters for 20 years” and served with the 135th Assault Helicopters.
According to Faulkner, he was stationed at Bearcat Base near Dong Nai Province in Southern Vietnam.
“Vietnam was scary at times, we had our good days and bad days and we all lost some good friends, ” Faulkner said. He also had an older brother who served in Korea and another brother who served in Vietnam.
Coming back from Vietnam was hard on soldiers as many received poor treatment upon their return. For Faulkner, it was no different as he came home through San Francisco, he was “spit on, kicked and called baby killer.”
Faulkner said it was different now and that people were “grateful” for the service of Vietnam Veterans.
“It was such a difference as we came home today, to see people pull over for us and people thanking us for our service,” Faulkner said.
In all, Faulkner spent 20 years in the Army before retirement in 1982. He then worked another 20 years at Brushy Mountain Prison.
“You could say I’m used to shiny boots and short haircuts,” Faulkner said.
Faulkner’s good friend Mack Orick served in Thailand with the 599th Ordinance for ammunition.
“We shipped bombs over to Vietnam to J.W. and the rest of them,” Orick said. He and Faulkner grew up together playing football for La Follette High School. According to Orick, Faulkner was “one of the best players to come out of La Follette.”
Another LaFollette Veteran attending the veteran’s trip was David Ellison. Ellison was in Vietnam from March of 1966 to March of 1967. He was with the engineers building float bridges. He said they also built pipeline to carry jet fuel for the Air Force.
“We put through a tunnel a mile long,” Ellison recalled. He also recalled how “terrible the heat was and the rainy season” but also how “beautiful the beaches were.”
Ellison said while over in Vietnam, he always wrote home to his folks.
He recalled laying pipeline for the Air Force guys and getting to eat with them on occasion.
“The Air Force guys had way better food than we did in the Army,” Ellison said.
After coming home from Vietnam, Ellison signed up for the National Guard and stayed 22 years with them before retiring.
Ellison was in basic training with Daniel Walden, one of Campbell County’s soldiers who died in Vietnam in 1966.
“We lost a lot of good guys over there,” Ellison said.
Wednesday’s trip to Chattanooga brought “friendship, connections and honor” to the veterans who went.
Bolinger said these were the reasons behind the trip and that he and the others hoped to organize more events for area Vietnam Veterans.
“I know how it was for me after I got back; it was hard, and it’s important for these guys to get together and visit and to be honored for their service,” Bolinger said.
The Veterans departed from the La Follette Church of God at 9am and returned around 5:45pm Wednesday afternoon with a Campbell County Sheriff’s Office escort.
Several veterans said the trip was awe inspiring and “thought provoking.”
“It was different, seeing everything from the Civil War and on,” said Vietnam Veteran Elmo Goins. Goins served in the 199th Light Infantry Brigade. Goins also said it was a different scene as the veterans returned on Wednesday from when they returned from the war.
“It was something else to see people pull over for us,” Goins said.
Chattanooga is where the nation’s highest military Honor for Valor was first awarded. The Charles H. Coolidge National Heritage Center takes care of more than 6,000 objects that help tell the story of Medal of Honor Recipients and fellow veterans from the Civil War forward. (WLAF NEWS PUBLISHED – 04/07/2022-6AM)