Carline Allen, 64, an army veteran who served during the Vietnam War era, doesn’t get many visitors at Lawndale Assisted Living.
Other than her three sons, not many come to visit her and her husband. She’s lived in Lawndale Assisted Living for the past 12 years. However, local veteran groups in Garner like American Legion and Veterans of Foreign War are trying to show more of an effort to visit veterans.
American Legion has an Adopt a Vet program, where veterans in the chapter can pick a veteran and sponsor and visit them. For instance Wednesday, they’ll go to North Pointe or Lawndale to play bingo with veterans.
They also serve as a support group to help them out whenever they need something, such as filing for benefits or health insurance.
“It’s refreshing to have somebody that understands where you’re coming from and understands what you’re talking about and understands your clipped speech and your distinct enunciation of words and directness,” Allen said. “Because you don’t push your foot around when you’re in the military.”
Allen served in the military, when it was not popular for women to do so. But Allen was not your ordinary woman during that era. She strongly believed in women’s rights. But she wouldn’t go as far to call herself a “feminist.”
“I was a semi-feminist,” she joked. “I enjoyed being a girl.”
Allen said she wanted to be sent to Vietnam to fight, but before she could get through basic training, the military were sending women back to U.S. soil to serve as support personnel.
“A lot of people asked what are you doing going into the army, you’re going to go over there and get shot and killed. I said ‘I don’t care, that’s what I’m going for,’” Allen said. “I figured my whole reason for going in the military was I said all these other guys my age enjoy the same rights freedoms and liberties I do and they have a responsibility to fight and defend and so do I.”
But the Vietnam war was not generally accepted by the American people. The perception of veterans of that war during the ‘60s and ‘70s, was that they killed women and children.
“We got called ‘baby killers,’ she said. “They said, ‘How can you be in a uniform that kills babies and women?’ You had to put up with that kind of jazz.”
She loves to tell stories of times when she was in the military. She even served in the 14th Army band, playing bass guitar.
Brian Rietvelt, Garner’s American Legion Post 232 commander, said one of the biggest problems facing veterans today, is that some do not get any visitors. While some do, the ones that don’t aren’t treated the same, he said.
Rietvelt said many of these veterans have brain injuries or physical and mental issues from serving in the war. He said one in three veterans coming the gulf has PTSD or a brain injury. And some go undiagnosed.
The Adopt a Vet Program was started to support veterans who seem to be forgotten and don’t get much support.
“Right now they are not able to get out and get around like they used to but they are not that segment of society to be dropped off and forgotten,” Rietvelt said. “And I think that is what is so sad. If you ask Americans if they are patriotic then they are. They’ll fly their flags and put their “Proud to be American” bumper stickers on their car. But it is like, when is the last time you went out there and really helped a vet? There’s far and few in between.”
“I’m not saying that we’re doing a great a job as we could but we’re moving in the right direction,” he continued. “That’s what it takes, a society that recognizes it’s broken and how do we fix it.”
Don Searles, a member of the American Legion, agreed.
“It’s bad when you go in and you see this, how happy these people are to see you, so you know that there is something wrong because it’s not like you come every week and they are accustomed to you being there,” he said. “But they’re overjoyed for the short time that you are there. So you know there’s a hunger.”
Anybody can adopt a veteran. Veterans are randomly picked for the sponsor. Sponsors can visit, send money or something as simple as sending a letter to a veteran.
“Those little things when you send mail, it’s like mail call in the military, it just makes their day,” Rietvelt said. “They might not have ever met you face to face but they are glad they got a letter. Somebody cares about me. Somebody’s thinking about me, somebody’s praying for me. I’m having a good day.”