Wednesday, March 29 marked National Vietnam Veterans Day and in honor of those who served and did not receive the “Welcome Home” they deserved, the Travis Mills Foundation hosted the 5th annual Vietnam Era Veterans Breakfast at the Augusta Civic Center in Maine.
“This gives us a time and space to specifically honor and welcome home the men and women who selflessly served in Vietnam and never got the recognition they deserved,” said U.S. Army SSG (Ret.) Travis Mills.
At this year’s breakfast, the Foundation was honored to present U.S. Marine Corps veteran, Lance Corporal Donald “Don” F. Smith, with a Quilt of Valor for his heroic actions in war.
After completing basic training in Parris Island, South Carolina, Don went on to advanced schools for both machine gunner and riflemen specialties. He later deployed on the USS Okinawa to serve in the Vietnam War.
While in service to our country Don earned various awards, including the Presidential Unit Citation for fighting off a superior enemy force while in combat.
Many memories have stayed with Don for much of his life, including taking the wrong set of rations for a multiple-day patrol and eating only pineapple. However, some memories have had more of a lasting impact.
On his last day of patrol in South Vietnam along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), he and a handful of other Marines were navigating a rice paddy when the Marine in front of him stepped on a bush – activating a booby trap. Don was medevacked to a nearby forward combat medical unit before being transferred from Da Nang to the Philippines. Don underwent multiple surgeries on his head, legs, back, chest and stomach to remove shrapnel from his body. Don was awarded a Purple Heart in honor of his sacrifice in the line of duty.
What exactly is a Quilt of Valor?
Quilts of Valor was founded in 2003 by Catherine Roberts when she had a literal dream about her son, Nat, who was deployed to Iraq. The dream consisted of him struggling with the mental impacts of war. Someone in the dream wrapped him in a quilt and he was instantly uplifted.
Donna Brookings of the Maine and Regional Coordinator of Quilts of Valor, along with others, wrapped Don at the event Wednesday in front of more than 500 Vietnam veterans and their guests.
A Quilt of Valor is a quality, hand- or machine-made quilt awarded to a veteran or servicemember who has been touched by war. The recipient takes part in a wrapping ceremony, where a small group of people wrap the veteran in the quilt to symbolize love and unity.
Don’s family was present Wednesday for the moving ceremony, including Chris Smith (Don’s son), Cindy Smith (Don’s daughter in-law) and Emily Walters (Don’s Daughter).
“Pappa Don,” as he’s known in the community where he lives, along with six other Vietnam veterans and their families, stayed at the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat this week in place of recalibrated veterans and their families who are usually hosted.
About the Travis Mills Foundation
The Travis Mills Foundation is a nonprofit organization that supports post-911 veterans who experienced life changing injuries while in service to our country. The Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat offers our nation’s recalibrated veterans and their families a week-long, barrier free, all-expenses-paid experience at its world-class retreat in the Belgrade Lakes Region of Maine. It offers various programs that help these brave men and women overcome physical and emotional obstacles, strengthen their families, and provide well-deserved rest and relaxation. The Foundation also offers the Warrior PATHH Program (Progressive & Alternative Training for Helping Heroes) for combat veterans and first responders, the nation’s first of its kind program designed to cultivate and facilitate post-traumatic growth. Learn more >>> www.travismillsofundation.org.