'We Have To Listen To Each Other': Middlesex Holds Its First Vets Town Hall
On Sunday, a Vets Town Hall was held in Middlesex. It was the first event of its kind in central Vermont, where veterans were invited to speak and community members were invited to listen.
Audio for this story will be posted.
It was a hot afternoon in Middlesex, Richard, Dave, Bud and another Dave were having lunch at a white picnic table behind Red Hen Baking Company.
All of them are veterans. Richard Czaplinski served during the Vietnam War, stateside, in the nuclear program.
"I didn't know my butt from the hole in the ground about [the] military when I signed up at age 17."
“I didn't know better,” Czaplinski said. “I didn't know my butt from the hole in the ground about [the] military when I signed up at age 17.”
Bud Haas was in the Coast Guard:
“I ended up being skipper of a patrol boat in Vietnam during 1966. And got shot at, and shot a few people.”
Dave Ross was a combat medic, also in Vietnam:
“You don't want to know any details about what I did – basically a glorified bandaid boy,” he said. “No, I'm not a hero; I’m a survivor – that’s it.”
Dave ransom ended up taking care of the chapel at Camp Kilmer, in New Jersey.
“So I stayed there, this private E2 in charge of the base chapel,” he recalled with a laugh.
They were all waiting at the picnic table for the Vets Town Hall to begin.
It's an event where veterans are invited to get up on stage and talk about what their service means to them. Community members are invited to listen.
This was the first town hall to take place in Central Vermont.
Richard Czaplinski: “I think some of us will be speaking – I'm planning to speak; you're planning to speak …”
Bud Haas: “I am, but yeah.”
Dave Ross: “I don't know if I am or not.”
Marty McMahon pulled up a chair to the end of the picnic table. He was involved with organizing the event. He said it presents both a chance to speak and a chance to listen.
“It's not what's in the movies; here's a huge variety, from being a minister to being a medic – two of us were medics, floating down the river in a sailboat. Well, not actually sailboat,” he laughed, “You know – the Coast Guard. And everybody's had a totally different experience. And people don't understand what service is like.”
That’s why Kristen Eaton started organizing these town halls four years ago. They originated in Massachusetts in 2015, in collaboration with journalist Sebastian Junger, who’s written extensively about war and the return home.
Eaton says when she first heard about these town halls, she decided she was a person who should go to them.
“Because these are things that I don’t know about, and don’t have a great understanding of,” she said.
And because there weren’t town halls like this in Vermont, she got them started.
By the time Sunday’s event got underway, a crowd of about two-dozen people was seated in plastic Adirondack chairs.
"We have to listen to each other, see other points of view, and figure out how we go forward."
Then, the stories began:
“… As Yogi Berra said, ‘It's a deja vu all over again. Going way back in history …”
There were origin stories and memories:
“We took care of not only the severely wounded soldiers who came in by chopper – many similarities to M.A.S.H., which everybody asked me: ‘Was it like M.A.S.H.? Was like M.A.S.H.?’”
“… And I brought a couple of buddies down. We couldn't tell anybody we were going down in our own car – we had rail tickets but we wanted to bring the car …”
“Well-sighted rifle fire was no problem. Racking the charging handle of a 240 medium machine gun, sending bursts of fire into enemy positions, was second nature. It was basically like a crossfit workout with real consequences …”
And many of those experiences are still being processed.
“… I grew up as an army brat, mostly in the southeastern United States. And – I'm sorry. This is unscripted. There's emotions that come up from nowhere – and I went to West Point in 1962, finished in 66. Lost 33 of my classmates ...”
“And not long after, I was protesting the war. From being in the military, right? [To] protesting the war. I found out what … what was happening…”
Dave, Bud and Richard all spoke, along with a handful of others. And the audience listened. Some took notes. Others looked at the ground.
Another speaker said “We have to listen to each other, see other points of view, and figure out how we go forward.”
One veteran continued:
“[I’m] grateful to have this opportunity, grateful to live in this country and I wish everybody well. Thank you.”
There are three more town halls planned for this summer in Newport, Rutland and Burlington.
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