WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Veterans and their families from all over the world will soon be El Dorado Lake.
KSN broadcast live from the very first Vietnam Veterans and Family Reunion in 1988.
The creators of what is now known as the Kansas Veterans and Family Reunion say it was tough for them to cope after returning from Vietnam, so they acted out and got on the wrong side of the law.
They ended up in a court-ordered PTSD support group together, and they found healing and purpose to help others do the same.
“Something is wrong here. You gotta lot of veterans getting in trouble,” Marine Ben Mitchell said.
“We decided we that we ought to do something,” Retired Chief Petty Officer Michael Walker said.
When they got to work on the first reunion, they did so quickly.
“We put a reunion on in 28 days,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell was there, and so were the other four creators, and all these years later, they are still on a mission.
“People don’t understand what it’s like unless you’ve been there,” Walker said.
Walker and Mitchell go back more than 50 years.
“I actually put a battle dressing on Ben when he was wounded in Vietnam,” Walker said.
He is the only Navy Corpsman of the group, and the rest are Marines.
“The idea all started around we wanted to help other veterans and give them a place to go,” Walker said.
“The reunion gives me a chance to communicate with people that know what I am talking about,” Marine Tom Allen said. “They’ve walked a mile in my shoes.”
Their focus, in the beginning, was on their fellow Vietnam veterans, but that changed with new wars.
“On our 20th year, we decided okay we need to open this up. We have kids of our own coming back,” Mitchell said.
Organizers say society doesn’t always understand what servicemen and women have been through.
“Every year I see it in the faces of the new vets who show up,” Walker said.
Organizers say this is the only family-oriented reunion you’ll find in the nation, and it’s always been that way.
“It was all about trying to get our families to understand what we were trying to tell them,” Walker said.
“Family, to me, makes a big difference because you gotta fight it together,” Mitchell said.
They say many vets find some closure in that fight by attending the reunion.
“Everybody being able to get together and communicate with one another, just to see what their life was like,” Allen said.
“It was all about trying to help other veterans come home,” Walker said.
The event has been helping veterans for more than three decades, making it one of the longest-running reunions in the country.
“It means a lot, or I wouldn’t be doing it for 33 years,” Allen said.
Organizers say they’ve seen so many people grow over the years.
Mitchell says in the beginning, he would see veterans hitchhiking to get to the lake, then he said the following year they would show up with a tent, and now they come to the reunion driving motor homes.
The organizers say so much of the healing came from knowing someone cared.
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