JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – John Frederickson’s eyes showed a smile above his mask Monday as the Vietnam veteran sat watching a small parade circle through the driveway of the VA care center where he lives.
National Vietnam War Veterans Day — a date marking the withdrawal of troops from what was then the United States’ longest war — had brought Frederickson out.
“I was a tunnel rat,” the Michigan native said of his experience in Vietnam, rooting out enemy soldiers in underground warrens. He wore a Vietnam veteran ballcap with pride and basked in the brisk, brilliant sunshine at the James H. Quillen VA Medical Center Mountain Home.
It’s been a tough year for Frederickson and other veterans at the “community living center” (CLC) at Mountain Home. COVID has curbed indoor visits completely.
Monday sparked a glimmer of hope that things will change soon — for Frederickson and for fellow Vietnam veteran Bob Phillips. Phillips leads a regional chapter of the Rolling Thunder group, and the 101st Airborne veteran said he and his buddies have really missed weekly visits to Frederickson and the other men who live at the CLC.
“We hadn’t got to see any of our CLC patients through COVID,” said Phillips, who left home on an April day quite like Monday in 1970 and got Medivaced out of Vietnam less than six months later.
“We usually come over every Thursday night, play poker and other games and visit with them.
“A lot of these guys have no one to visit ‘em and it’s just an honor, and a lot of ’em’s like me they’re all Vietnam vets,” Phillips said. “I’m just fortunate to be able to actually visit them and talk and just share with them. It’s been pretty lonely not being able to go with them now.”
As police, Rolling Thunder riders on motorcycles, VA grounds crews and others rolled by showing their appreciation to Frederickson and a couple dozen other residents, a number of VA staff members also stood by.
Among them was Amy Fleming, holding a black and white photo of her father — Vietnam veteran Charles Dickenson.
“My dad was drafted to Vietnam right out of high school,” said Fleming, who works in the cardiology department at Mountain Home. “He was from Big Stone Gap, Virginia, and he served two tours in Vietnam.”
Fleming said her father died in 2010 of a massive heart attack related to exposure to Agent Orange during his time in Vietnam.
That experience made working at the VA an opportunity Fleming didn’t want to pass up — in honor of her dad.
“Once this position came available at the VA it was almost like a Godsend so I’ve been here almost two years and I’m working in cardiology helping our veterans, and it’s a blessing,” Fleming said.
Mountain Home Director Dean Borsos said the day is one to recognize and thank Vietnam veterans whether they served in theater or anywhere in the world during a conflict officially noted to have run from Nov. 1, 1955 to May 15, 1975.
Borsos said the parade — even with restrictions — was something folks at the VA didn’t want to pass up this year.
“We believe it is important to recognize and celebrate these Veterans and their families, and to thank them for their sacrifice for our country,” Borsos said.