Only Vietnam War veterans know what they endured in the war and after they came back.
And so a group called the In Country Vets Motorcycle Club, strictly for Vietnam veterans, formed 19 years ago to share a love of riding, support one another and raise money for vets of all wars.
In the past three days, the organization brought to Omaha 135 members from more than 20 states for the group's annual national meeting.
“We're very independent, but we're also very co-dependent on each other,” said Dan “Trash” Strecker, the national vice president from Detroit. The organization “reinforces the bonds that we already had as combat veterans,” he said.
Each member has a “road name,” such as Farmer, Popcorn, Rev Ray or Animal. On their motorcycle vests, each wears a pin depicting a dinosaur, because this, Strecker said, is a “dinosaur club” with no legacy memberships. Once these members die out, the organization will end. The youngest member is 60.
Only those who served a combat tour in Vietnam can belong. Navy veterans who were in the Vietnam theater, or zone, and Air Force veterans who flew in the combat zone also can be members. Strecker said the group obtains each applicant's military record from the federal government to verify that he served in the Vietnam War.
In Country Vets Motorcycle Club raised about $20,000 over the past year from chili feeds, hog roasts, motorcycle poker runs and other fundraisers to give money to American Legion homes, VA hospitals, homeless veterans centers and other veterans' causes.
Strecker said Vietnam War veterans typically arrived in American airports alone from the war, a far different scene from the ceremonies and greetings that have welcomed veterans over the past 20 years from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Vietnam veterans fought in an unpopular war. Strecker said he changed out of his military uniform and into civilian clothing as soon as he landed in the United States because he anticipated derision.
Roy “Judge” Love of the Elkhorn area, the Nebraska state president of In Country Vets Motorcycle Club, said World War II was viewed as a heroic war and it frustrated him to “get told I wasn't in a real war.”
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have brought on a change in attitude toward all veterans, Strecker said, and they now are thanked for their service. Some members of the organization find this odd, Strecker said.
They take more comfort from the presence of others who fought in the Vietnam War. Strecker said: “We wanted to associate with men that went through what we went through.”