Combat veterans have faced and lived through experiences unimaginable and foreign to most American citizens.
A local chapter of the national Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, (CVMA) 10-5 Grand Lake Chapter, offers membership to combat veterans from all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces who ride motorcycles, and a chance to connect with those who can relate and understand.
“There's five chapters in Oklahoma, and each chapter has at least fifteen members, they may have a lot more than that, but that’s the minimum we require for a chapter to start,” CMVA Grand Lake Chapter Commander Ken Sherrets of Grove said. “We're combat veterans who ride motorcycles, and it gives us a lot of the camaraderie that you miss from when you were in the service that you can get back in the organization. That's probably one of the most important parts of it.”
The national non-profit CVMA, organized in 2001, and its 220 chapters with over 20,000 members' mission is, “to support and defend those who have defended our country and our freedoms.” The association's focus is to help veterans and veteran care facilities by providing warm meals, clothing, shelter, guidance, and help or to simply say, 'Thank You’ and 'Welcome home.'
The CVMA also endeavors to raise awareness for the plight of POWs, MIA's families and PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury and other combat related medical conditions.
Returning to so-called “normal” life in a civilian world is challenging for many veterans and the CVMA gives combat veterans an opportunity to provide support from others who have military knowledge, experience and therefore understanding.
“As you may know some veterans with PTSD and things, they don't want to associate with other people too much sometimes. They get a helping hand and feel a lot more comfortable being with us and that opens up the doors for them to be more comfortable with other people outside the organization,” Sherrets said. “I'd say that being a member is actually therapeutic. It's also about Vets helping Vets.”
Examples of how the local CMVA help include assisting a veteran whose house had burned down by paying their insurance deductible, or remediation of another veteran's bathroom affected by mold.
Staff Sgt. Sherrets
Sherrets is a founder of the CMVA 10-5 Grand Lake Chapter.
“I'm an original member. I'm from Nebraska, I was the state representative there over all the chapters, and I moved here and retired,” he said. “I was associated with the Tulsa Chapter for awhile, and then when there were enough people in this area we started a chapter around the Grove and Grand Lake area.”
The CVMA 10-5 Grand Lake Chapter now has 37 members, including auxiliary members, from Grove, Miami, Fairland, Afton, Jay, Commerce, Pryor and as far away as Tahlequah from all military branches.
Sherrets is a retired U.S. Army Vietnam Veteran Staff Sergeant with five tours, three of those in Vietnam, and 14 years total of military service.
“I was first assigned there in Vietnam in 1965, '66, and '67, and then 1970 and '71. The first tour, I was in communications,” he said. “We set up communication systems for the Divisions that were coming over before they got there and also assisted the Vietnamese with their communication systems too. Then the second tour, I was the Detachment Commander with 9th Infantry Division. The last tour, I was with an advisory team advising the Vietnamese military and police.”
He received the Bronze Star in 1971.
Sherrets said every time he was promoted in the Army it was to a different specialty.
“I liked the changes too because it was one thing I liked about the military, you can change the area that you live in, and you have the opportunity to get a new job,” he said.
“I was going to make a career out of it, but I'd had five overseas tours in ten years. They wanted to send me on another tour – I didn't exactly have enough, but I think my wife did,” Sherrets added with a laugh.
CVMA is a charitable organization and 501c nonprofit. National membership dues are used to support organizations such as Fisher Houses. The Fisher House Foundation provides a network of comfort homes located at major military and VA medical centers nationwide where military and veterans' families can stay at no cost while a loved one is receiving medical treatment.
“We've also donated to Wounded Warriors and individuals who need assistance and things that we can help them out with locally. We raise money through events like a poker run, or we did security for the Grand Lake boat races that they had, and they made a substantial donation to us,” Sherrets said. “We've gotten some substantial private donations from individuals to help the Vets that need it. I like to spend everything we take in, in one year. My philosophy is to help now.”
The CVMA sets a limit of $1,500 in assistance per veteran to allow the group to spread support and reach more veterans.
“One of our members got a wheelchair. He had a head-on collision. Someone was on a cell phone and hit him on his bike, and he's had 80 surgeries,” Sherrets said. “This past week we finished the roof on a Vet's house that had a leaky roof. ”
The CVMA and Auxiliary both provide $500 scholarships each year to children of veterans in the northeast Oklahoma area.
The CVMA also allows combats veterans an avenue to continue to serve alongside other veterans in a new capacity.
“I think you have a mindset of people, all the services are all volunteer now, there is no draft, it's a mindset to be of service to somebody. A lot of people in the CVMA when they get out they join organizations, and become paramedics, or firemen, or policemen, a lot of them go on to other careers, or they volunteer – it gets in your blood,” Sherrets said.
Sherrets said his own military experience and his return to civilian life was varied and challenging.
“A lot of it was actually fun. Some of it wasn't fun, like when you're on an aircraft and somebody's shooting it up while you're trying to land, you get a little angry” he said. “You have friends that die, and that's difficult to deal with, but you've got to continue on, you've got to take care of business.”
As a Vietnam Vet, as often described by other veterans who served there, Sherrets' reception home after a tour of duty was disheartening.
“It wasn’t very good. The first time I came back in 1966 it was like any other time that I'd gone to an airport, it was just normal. When I came back after 1967, I had people cussing at me. I had a father with an unruly child, while I was waiting to board the aircraft, he says, 'If you don't behave I'm going to turn you over to that baby killer and he's going to take care of you.' I've had groups outside the airport, protesters, spitting on us in uniform. So, it wasn't a pretty picture,” Sherrets said. “But there wasn't nothing we could do about it. There were some soldiers in Vietnam that didn't want to be there, but they still did their job.”
Now the support and respect are better for Veterans in America, but a price was paid by those who served before, according to Sherrets.
“I think they're getting that reception because of us,” Sherrets said. “When the troops came home from Iraq, we made it a point, Vietnam Vets, to go meet them and to make sure they had a decent reception. It might not have been a parade, but we were there to thank them, shake their hand and give them a hug.”
Sherrets hopes Veterans receive genuine respect and appreciation and that it's not just, “the thing to do.”
“We get a lot of people who'll say, 'Thanks for your service,' and most of the time I think it's pretty genuine, sometimes I think it comes off a little patronizing, but I just say thank you,” Sherrets said. “I think most of us would not want to be recognized individually, but as an organization, or part of an organization, or have been in the service, and recognize that the Army is important, rather than the individual.”
The Grand Lake Chapter of CVMA meets the second Sunday of each month for regular meetings at the Bernice VFW, and the group also meets once a week, but attending all meetings is not mandatory.
“We call our regular meetings church, and we call our other meetings choir practice,” Sherrets said with a laugh.
On Veterans Day this year, the Grand Lake CVMA members will be riding in the Jay parade and will be treated to lunch by the Jay Schools and will make a presentation to 5th-grade students.
To become part of a CVMA Chapter, members must ride a motorcycle, and have verifiable military service in a combat area with a Department of Defense/DD 214 with honorable discharge, and must be of good character. Membership is open to all branches.
Members of CVMA wear patches with emblems of a skull that incorporates the colors of Military Gold representing all U.S. Military service branches, red representing the blood shed in battlefield, and black representing the heavy hearts possessed for those who gave their lives and for those that are considered missing in action or prisoners of war. The skull and ace of spades represent the death that war leaves in its wake. The local Chapter's patch is a skull in a headdress.
CVMA also offers membership for Auxiliary Members for spouses or widows and up to 10 percent of Support Members who are non-combat veterans.
For more information, to donate, or apply for membership, go to wwwcombatvet.org and use the Oklahoma 10-5 link to contact the organization.