Convention: Reflections in the photographer’s eye

What it was like at the 2014 VietNow National Convention.

2014 VietNow National Convention

Story by Ken Nelson, VietNow National Photographer

I hadn’t been able to go to the last two VietNow National Conventions. In 2012, I pulled something in my back – in 2013, Branson, Missouri, was too far away for my aching back. If I’d been guaranteed a front row seat at “Barney Fife Fully Unloaded,” things might have been different. Luckily this year the convention was in Madison, Wisconsin, about 65 miles north of Rockford, Illinois, where I live. OK, little GTO, let’s go.

My brother, who’s the editor of this magazine, always tells me, “Ken, you don’t have to take 10,000 pictures. Eighteen hundred and sixty-five will be just right.”

I pulled into the hotel and almost had a heart attack. There by the front door was a beautiful brand new Indian Chief motorcycle. Turns out it belonged to Augie (John Augustynowicz) – he had just picked it up at the Indian dealer. It had just eight miles on it. Wow. The manager offered to bring this big Chief into the lobby. Not going to happen. Too many chances of Stepanek or Darrell or Rich zooming around and landing in the swimming pool.

I went inside and registered – it’s amazing when I see how many good people VietNow has who volunteer so much time. I got my photographer’s credentials and started taking pictures.

My brother, who’s the editor of this magazine, always tells me, “Ken, you don’t have to take 10,000 pictures. Eighteen hundred and sixty-five will be just right.”

I’m always hesitant about shooting this guy – or shooting this woman – but no one ever objects. They only say, “Don’t shoot me with food in my mouth.” Well, I did take one good picture at a chicken wing-eating contest.

It’s always a pleasure to meet up with TSA Darrell Gilgan and his wife. He always greets me like a long-lost relative, and says, “Ken, glad to see you, we thought you got lost going to Branson.”

Mary Sanders was once again in charge of the Silent Auction. I bid on a leather motorcycle vest but lost out. I did win a POW/MIA trailer hitch cover. Now I need to buy a trailer hitch. I tried the old trick, “I’ll mail you a check when I get back to Rockford.” Well, Mary was wise to that, and she told me where to go. “Ken, there’s a money machine in the lobby.” Foiled again.

There were two big surprises. Rich Sanders announced that after 20 years he was no longer going to run for the presidency of VietNow. Think about it. Twenty years! That means he’s been president since 1994.

Interesting note: I found a floor tile outside our ballroom that looked like a map of Vietnam.

There were two big surprises. Rich Sanders announced that after 20 years he was no longer going to run for the presidency of VietNow. Think about it. Twenty years! That means he’s been president since 1994.

Congratulations to Rich and his wife, Mary. Without Rich’s leadership and willingness to help veterans, I don’t think VietNow would be the strong advocate and powerful voice for Vietnam veterans it is. Thanks for a job well done. And good luck to the new guy, Joe Lewis. With a name like that, we know he’ll be a real fighter for Vietnam veterans. One look at him and you can see he packs a knockout punch for all veterans. Go, Joe, go!

With a heavy heart Reverend John Steer told us he was also stepping down. Too many long days and longer nights. Too many trips to too many doctors, and a whole lot of traveling. He’s a remarkable man, and his wife, Donna, is a very special woman. This great country could use a few thousand more men and women like them. God bless Donna and Reverend John. The Friday night services and Sunday prayer breakfasts won’t be the same, but we’ll be there, saying a prayer for them.

Janis Nark was named VietNow Veteran of the Year. In Vietnam she was known as Nurse Nark, an angel of mercy. She still is an angel to any veterans who woke up after surgery, where she was the first sight they saw. That reminds me, I still have to send her some pictures.

We heard presentations about how good the VA is on some things, and how horrible they are on other things. Can you say, “VA secret waiting list?”

The names of all deceased members were read by the delegates, and to me the biggest surprise was that Dr. Janet Kamer had passed away. Janet was a caring person, and was totally dedicated to her work with VietNow and all veterans.

Sunday morning came, and we were without Reverend Steer because he and Donna had to fly to Florida for another veterans convention, and then fly back to Madison, and then drive home to Arkansas. Modern technology solved the problem. He called in on Skype or something. What a good man, and a true war hero if there ever was one. Gotta love him.

Sunday morning, after taking 1,865 pictures, I headed for home with a little tear in my eye. I’m already thinking, I have to buy a bigger SD card for my camera, and where’s the next convention(?) Lastly, I always wonder who won’t be at the next convention. I hope I’m there, and you are, too. Thanks for allowing me to be your VietNow convention photographer. I couldn’t shoot a better bunch of people. See you next year.

 

Ken NelsonKen Nelson has worked as a typographer and a display ad designer, and serves as the VietNow National Photographer.