Veteran Fest: The party they deserve

Melton Murphy stands at attention in uniform

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Honor to the soldier and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country’s cause.” It is this notion that embodied the second annual Veteran Fest held at the Downtown Event Centre on Sunday, Aug. 5. Veterans of Southeast Texas and beyond were celebrated at the veteran focused festival hosted by Young Americans Overseas (YAO) and sponsored by Humana and Marvic International LLC Construction. The event was free and also offered street tacos, drinks and live music with a petting zoo and face painting available for children at no charge.

The second annual Veteran Fest was held to not only honor veterans and their families, but also spotlighted Vietnam veterans in particular with a pinning ceremony to recognize the veterans and their families.

“This is a celebration in honor of Vietnam veterans because of their poor welcome home. So this is that party they should have got a long time ago,” said Dr. Margot Gage, founder and director of Young Americans Overseas.

The Event Centre was filled with lively conversation, laughs and appreciation for the event.

“This is a fantastic thing. It is. We want to thank Young Americans Overseas, Humana who helped sponsor it and all the sponsors on this deal, and I guarantee you that every veteran here will tell you the same thing,” said Melton Murphy, United States Marine Corps Vietnam War veteran. “We get a slap on the back; everyone needs that every once in a while. It’s a welcome home. We’re proud to have served.”

This “welcome home,” however, is much different than the one some of these Vietnam veterans received upon their return from war.

“The attitude at the time was not friendly,” said Charles Lindsey, Army National Guard and Air Force veteran who served in theater during the Vietnam War. “(In) the late ’60s (there was) the rage in Chicago and all that anti-war demonstrations. The Vietnam veterans didn’t get a very good welcome coming back. I personally was cursed out and spat on.”

Though the Vietnam veterans in attendance did not have the welcome home they deserved, many were not able to return at all. YAO also wanted to honor these service members and thank their families, one in particular being the late Gerald Paul Gauthier, who gave his life during the Vietnam War.

“He died Jan. 2, 1968. I was 3 months old and never got to meet him. He’s my dad – I’m proud, he’s my hero,” said Michelle Ronsonet, daughter of Gauthier.

“He’s my hero also,” added Don Resweber, Army Vietnam War veteran and high school classmate of Gauthier. “He died before I got drafted to go to Vietnam, and he will be my hero till I die.”

“He was on an eight-man recon mission and only two of the men (survived); they were fired on by enemies,” said Ronsonet. “He saved those two people.”

Gage and her husband, Victor, who are both avid travelers, founded YAO. The duo started the not-for-profit organization with the dream of helping young Americans improve their lives and travel abroad. The organization listed that its goals are to assist post 9/11 veterans with housing and connecting them to resources that benefit veterans, as well as sponsor youth community engagement programs and hold special events that inspire, educate and entertain. Their mission is to assist young Americans, especially post 9/11 veterans and their families, with reaching their full potential and traveling abroad. For more information on Young Americans Overseas, visit their website