There is an establishment in Jamestown that provides a meeting place for all veterans.
The local Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 865, located at 41 Bigelow Ave. in Jamestown, held a gathering Thursday of 10 veterans who discussed the chapter and what life is like for veterans.
The chapter provides a safe and friendly environment for veterans to gather as family.
A memorial wall at the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 865, honoring the lives of those from Chautauqua County who died in Vietnam.
P-J photos by Daniel Swanson
As one veteran explained, the first time he ever visited the chapter, he was greeted with an understanding, "Welcome home, brother." This type of interaction is commonplace at the chapter, veterans say.
As the group discussed some challenges of reintegrating into civilian life, it became clear that each veteran's struggle was similar.
A common thread among each veteran's experience was the difficulty in relating with people once returning from active duty.
"PTSD is a very real thing," one veteran mentioned. "Sometimes PTSD can hit you when you're 50."
The veterans also agreed that the chapter was a safe place for them to gather, one of the few places in town they feel truly comfortable and can relate to others who understand them.
A wife of a veteran noted, "If this was anywhere else, (the guys) would be sitting with their backs to the wall."
However, at the VVA chapter, veterans feel at home.
The ages of veterans at the chapter vary widely - at least one veteran was in his late 20s or early 30s and another, affectionately known as "Uncle Tony," is a World War II veteran, age 93.
Of the 10 veterans who met on Thursday, their military experience covered the Gulf War, the Vietnam War and the War in Iraq.
While the chapter's main focus is on active-duty military and veterans, its members also strive to positively impact the local community, working with Meals on Wheels and the St. Susan Center, as well as other charities. Among the many benefits the chapter is involved with, members recently raised more than $4,000 for Kallie Swan, a local toddler diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
The chapter's Support the Troops Program has already collected 108 boxes this year to send out to veterans. Each box is filled with items like baby wipes, candies, toothpaste, silly string (which servicemen and women use to detect tripwire), Ramen noodles and dog biscuits. Nearly $60 worth of goods is placed in each box.
The chapter also hosts family-friendly events that veterans can bring their children to, including Halloween and Easter parties.
A large banner hanging inside the main room sums up the purpose of the chapter, as one veteran mentioned. It reads, "Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another."
Each wall was covered in photographs and plaques dedicated to veterans.
"Instead of hanging pictures of presidents ... we think it's more fitting to put up pictures of our brothers," one veteran noted, pointing to a hallway with walls covered in photographs. Much of the chapter's building is covered in photographs of fellow and fallen servicemen and servicewomen.
At 1 p.m. today, the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 865 will host a Veterans Day Bash, featuring a pig roast. For details regarding the chapter or how you can help veterans, call 483-6845.