October 6, 2014
2014 National Veterans Conference
“Duty, Honor, Country”
August 24th thru the 29th, Veterans from across the UAW Nation assembled at the hallowed ground of the Walter and May Reuther UAW Family Education Center, more commonly known as Black Lake for the 2014 National Veterans Conference.
The week was full of excitement, patriotism and brotherhood, as over 250 delegates from across the UAW Nation joined together for a week of education and spirit that included many highlights. When asked during the opening program, over half of the delegates raised their hand noting this was their first time at Black Lake, excitement was in the air.
Right from the start, delegates were introduced to history. Recognizing the 20th Anniversary of the UAW National Veterans Advisory Board (NVAC), established by retired UAW President Owen Bieber, Mr. Bieber was on hand to tell us how the NVAC began and of some of the historical notes and records of the UAW Veterans Affairs Dept. It was an honor and a real treat to listen to Mr. Bieber and all he had to say. Mr. Bieber’s, introduction and his bio, makes him one of the most “who’s who” amongst labor leaders across the world.
UAW President, Dennis Williams was on hand to welcome us, a Vietnam veteran himself, President Williams is well connected to veterans as a person and knows well the issues that concern veterans. President Williams, with heartfelt passion spoke to delegates about the the longtime injustices by the V A healthcare system, the veteran and military suicide rate, the veteran homelessness rate, veterans unemployment rate, all which are substantially higher that the civilian national average. President Williams continued and spoke proudly of the hard work UAW veterans and members preform in our communities to help correct and ease these injustices.
During the week the delegates had classroom discussion with topics of interest including Veterans Legislation, Establishing the Veterans Committee, Veterans Benefits and PTSD. Each Region 8 delegate was involved and played a role in the classroom with vast knowledge and experience, particularly in the PTSD classroom where I, Mark Peterson assisted a long time favorite instructor Domingo Davila. Domingo, a Vietnam Veteran and retired UAW worker out of Flint, is well respected and looked upon as a go to guy on the PTSD subject. Another favorite that also teaches PTSD, Jim Adams, who has taught during several Region 8 Veterans Conferences, was also present. Between these two, PTSD was well covered, educational and was kept very interesting. Brother Adams also held Native American cleansing ceremony on the Black Lake shoreline. This ceremony is looked upon with respect and reverence and is a moving personal experience. We want to thank Brother Adams for this opportunity that rounded out an already emotional and exhilarating week at Black Lake.
During the week, not only was the classroom segment required, quality time was spent in the lecture hall with several other well noted speakers that would add to any block of instruction or veterans ceremony.
Over the years I have had the privilege to meet many very interesting veterans and be among some of the most distinguished yet humble gentlemen our country has produced. Several years ago I had the opportunity to meet and on several occasions fellowship with a man that has left a mark on my life… As the NVAC representative for Region 8, I do have the opportunity to suggest/represent speakers that may receive the invitation from the President’s office to be invited to Black Lake to speak to our delegates.
Perhaps the most enjoyable speaker this year at Black lake was my guest, WWII, Medal of Honor (MOH) Recipient, Woodie Hershel Williams, the last living Iwo Jima MOH recipient. Woodie at 91 years young had no shortage of words or descriptions as he told us of his childhood living in very rural, very small milk farm in West Virginia, his military experiences and his career starting up the then new Veterans Affairs Administration (V A) after WWII. I encourage our members to research Woodie’s bio and citation on line and on You Tube.
Another highlight included the inspiring true story of 82nd Airborne and Vassar, Michigan’s own, SSG Travis Mills, who was critically injured by an IED bomb and is now living life as a quadruple amputee. Travis defied all odds by the progress he made in under six months to get out of the hospital in less than 6 months. Even though SSG Mills has endured this unimaginable tragedy, he fights daily to recover for his wife and one year old daughter and to live a fulfilled life. His story continues to touch hearts across the America.
Rounding out the speakers one of our long time favorites, Rick Weidman, Executive Director for Policy & Government Affairs on the National Staff of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), gave another rousing session of Q&A. Rick has a canny way of teaching and speaking and draws our attention with his vast knowledge in veterans affairs.
During the week the weather was absolutely beautiful, thus allowing delegates to get out around the grounds of the UAW Education Center and explore the grandness of northern Michigan.
As usual, the week came to a quick halt, the hugs and handshakes were many as the delegates left enthused, re-energized and up to the task of carrying on a longstanding tradition with the UAW Veterans to continue our service not only to our union, our membership but also to our great country. Thank you UAW and each delegate for the opportunity and the experience, this makes us all better union members, citizens and veterans as we Continue to Serve.