Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.
Immortal words from World War II Army general and military icon Douglas MacArthur in his 1951 farewell address to Congress.
But forget telling that to the vividly active members of the Johns Creek Veterans Association.
The only thing fading here during JCVA's second Wednesday in September meeting was daylight, as members went one-on-one with Johns Creek Fire Department personnel during an equipment demonstration at Newtown Park.
The non-profit JCVA offers veterans of all stripes and from all branches and dates served in the U.S. military who reside in Johns Creek a place to call their own. The city provides logistical support while JCVA supports itself with its own set of bylaws and volunteer officers.
It went from charter to bona fide chapter on Sept. 12 and it’s looking for a few good men and women to join its ranks.
JCVA meets again this Wednesday at 1830 sharp - 6:30 p.m. civilian time - at Park Place at Newtown School adult recreation center, 3125 Old Alabama Road.
JCVA offers these unsung heroes a time and place to gather the second and fourth Wednesdays of every month to reminisce about their time spent in service to their country and discuss its future.
It’s a place where area veterans can talk frankly and freely amongst themselves about current events.
Equally important is preserving the oral histories these servicemen and women carry with them that's inevitably lost in the ether with their last breaths.
And political correctness gets checked at the door. Unlike civilian functions with coddled egos and cherished personal sensibilities, JCVA events get right down to brass tacks while keeping it light.
Cookouts, field trips and other group functions are tailored to what would interest and benefit area vets the most.
JCVA also hosts outside speakers, from government leaders to private business figures, interested in reaching out to these former soldiers whose oath to defend the Constitution Of The United States Of America has parlayed into self-directed community service and volunteer projects throughout the city.
Some vets who attended September’s second Wednesday meeting saw combat in the hellish jungles of Communist-occupied Vietnam throughout the 1960s.
Barely out of high school, many of these young men were forced into military service by the Selective Service System, or draft, a conscription mandate that enlisted able-bodied young men beyond their 18th birthdays who met certain government standards into military service. It was disbanded in 1973 and woman at that time were barred from combat roles.
For those who were fortunate enough to return home from Vietnam in one piece physically disembarked to a firestorm of public backlash.
They were spat upon - literally and figuratively - by anti-war protestors and ridiculed by mainstream media for nothing more than answering their country’s call.
Vitriol came from every direction. But none so public and damning than that from then-Hollywood activist actress Jane Fonda, whose "Hanoi Jane" moniker stuck after she was pictured sitting on a North Vietnamese Army anti-aircraft gun.
For decades there was barely any public appreciation for U.S. soldiers' sacrifices during the Vietnam era. And only until recently have many of these brave soldiers received the recognition they truly deserve.
JCVA makes good on that and then some.
Other JCVA vets, as their stories are told, were invariably stationed stateside or in other parts of the world serving support roles during the Cold War era and Korean conflict.
They went where their country needed them, and where they were ordered to go.
This brave generation of young soldiers, teenagers by and large, ran down the mighty Red Army. Their early efforts also led to the eventual fall of communist Russia’s impenetrable Iron Curtain.
It was these men, among others, who filled the seats at JCVA's Sept. 12 meeting.
And it's JCVA's mission to enlist as many more of them as it can find in the time ahead.
Johns Creek parks division manager Robby Newton, who serves as the city’s JCVA liaison, served during the Gulf War as a Staff Sergeant in the United States Air Force
“The history these guys hold, it’s really an honor to work with them,” Newtwon said. “And it’s interesting to swap stories between my time of military service and theirs.”
“It’s just fun to rub shoulders with these guys,” said Johns Creek Deputy City Manager Harold “Buzz” Boehm, who served 23 years in the United States Marine Corps and as a rifle platoon commander between 1969-1972 in Vietnam before retiring with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Boehm, along with his colleague and fellow military veteran, city manger John Kachmar, have unwaivered in their personal support and professional advisory roles since JCVA's inception.
For his part, Kachmar served with the US Marines in Vietnam from 1966 through 1968 and was awarded two purple hearts; a Navy achievement medal with combat V; and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. In total, he spent 15 years in the Marines, Army, and Navy Reserves, according to his city biography.
Fittingly, heroism was on full display at Newtown Park the day following the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on American soil.
Johns Creek Fire Department personnel joined the JCVA there for equipment demonstrations. Some members took rides 70 feet up in Station 63's ladder truck lift while others heard accounts from the firefighters themselves about the perils they face upholding their oath to protect life and property; much the same as a soldier's creed.
Following the equipment demos, JCFD Deputy Chief Deron “Pat” Wilson introduced all of the participating firefighters and then addressed the JCVA about fire operations and upcoming volunteer opportunities, including the newly offered Johns Creek Citizens Fire Academy and Public Safety Day event set for Oct. 6 in the Home Depot and Target parking lots at the intersection of State Bridge and Medlock Bridge roads.
“Like most of us that served during Vietnam, whether in combat or not, it was not a pleasant time. While we and our families may have been proud that we served, the public in general didn't want to hear about it. So in 1970 the dogtags went in the drawer, I went to work and I never looked back,” recalled Gerry Lewis, JCVA leadership chair who served as a sergent in the United States Air Force from 1966-1970.
But it was a speech last spring to a then fledgeling JCVA from Medal Of Honor recipient and retired Marine Corps Gen. James Livingston that fueled Lewis’ motivation to grow the group.
“His [Livingston’s] speech was inspirational. Not just because of his words, but as I looked around at the dozens of other ‘old guys’ in the audience I could read their expressions. And for the first time in decades it was okay to express pride in your service, no matter when it was or what your role.”