New VVA facility is a blessing for local veterans

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published May 12, 2015

 Ron Drdul salutes during a flag raising at the grand opening of the new Chapter 154 facility on April 25.

Ron Drdul salutes during a flag raising at the grand opening of the new Chapter 154 facility on April 25.

Photo by Erin Sanchez


CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Brian Bobek joined the United States Army in 1966 and found himself in the jungles of Vietnam one year later.

Now, as the president of Chapter 154 of the Vietnam Veterans of America, or VVA, Bobek said those days were instilled with fury due to the rousing anti-war sentiment from those back home.

“I went in the service in ’66 and the anti-war sentiment was very strong, and veterans didn’t come home to a very friendly nation, so to speak,” Bobek said. “World War II and Korea vets never recognized we were in a war, and we were kind of stranded until we found our own voice in the VVA and realized we had as much equity in the war as anyone else.”

Chapter 154 originally got its start in Mount Clemens in 1984, and even then Vietnam War veterans were not as appreciated as they are now. The chapter bounced around different towns, utilizing different facilities that let veterans convene and be among one another.

During that time, the chapter was one of the largest in the nation, boasting about 1,100 members. After death and attrition took its toll, the chapter now has around 650 members and is the largest in Michigan and fourth-largest in the United States.

The chapter spent close to 20 years in a facility in Roseville.

That was until April 25 of this year, when the members relocated to a new facility on 15 Mile Road in Clinton Township.

Greg Bowman, who is on the chapter’s board of directors, said there was no longer room for the chapter at the Roseville location.

He said the building was aging, and heating units had to be repaired. After seven months of looking around Macomb County, the chapter was provided with a new and wonderful opportunity.

“(The Roseville facility) was a little small and made up of several different storefronts in a strip mall, and it wasn’t the most convenient location in the world,” Bobek said. “We were a little bit jammed; (we had) 3,600 square feet between three units.

“We looked for new real estate and (the new) building came on the market and we investigated it as a rental. We talked to the owner and he found out about (Chapter) 154 and donated the building free of charge. That’s a big decision when someone offers you a 7,600 square foot building. It’s hard to say no.”

One for all and all for one
The chapter works tirelessly at acclimating military members from all backgrounds back to “the real world.” Members do outreach through counselors and help vets who are trying to navigate the Veteran Affairs medical system and bypass potential roadblocks — which is difficult considering the current “nightmare” that is the Veteran Affairs system, Bobek said.

The chapter has a hospital committee in downtown Detroit, runs a food pantry to help veterans in need, and its honor guard does military funerals and conducts proper burials. The chapter is also involved with the Michigan Vietnam traveling memorial, which travels 35 weekends out of year, is no cost to anybody and honors the 2,054 soldiers that were killed in the war.

Existing primarily on donations and fundraisers, 100 percent of the money the chapter receives goes toward veteran help. The whole operation is volunteer-driven.

“We just want to make sure people don’t forget the guys who offered their sacrifice,” Bobek said. “We probably do more in the way of comprehensive services of veterans more than anyone in the county.”

The chapter has had a positive impact over 30 years of operation, helping young men from the Gulf War, Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts lead as normal a life as can be. It’s about creating a legacy for younger soldiers, Bobek said, so that when the Vietnam veterans move on the younger members can take control of the chapter.

It’s all about being on the same team, no matter what conflict anyone endured.

Time helps heal wounds
More importantly, VVA chapters like 154 have helped soldiers heal from their war-torn pasts and have given them the opportunity to speak in an open forum.

“For a lot of guys in our chapter, it’s almost a salvation for them,” Bobke said. “A lot of guys withdrew and didn’t want to talk about their experiences. We have a place now where other vets share their experiences and act as mentors to give encouragement.

“The whole country looks back and realizes they did wrong with the Vietnam veterans. You don’t take out your hostilities on the soldiers; they only did what they had to do. There’s a lot more acceptance by the general public and it’s made a dramatic change. We’re making sure, as an organization, that the younger soldiers never get that kind of homecoming.”