The Text Message
It was late September 2017 that Timothy Davis, founder of The Greatest Generations Foundation, sent a text informing me that he had just received a phone call from the White House.
He was asked to recruit several Vietnam Veterans to meet President Trump in Vietnam on Veterans Day. I wasn’t sure if this was just an FYI or if I would be included, but I responded, “I will clear my calendar!”
This meant, however, that I would possibly miss our Fallen Warriors Monument unveiling ceremony that I had dreamt of for so long. Plus, I would have to miss visiting Washington D. C. on Veterans Day with my wife, brother and niece. Congressman Steve Knight’s excellent staff had graciously arranged a personal tour of the Capitol building and a White House tour.
But sure enough, I was to miss both of those events, but gained an experience of a lifetime.
The Phone Call
At 7:30 a.m. on Oct. 12, while observing the Carnevale Inc. employees preparing to set our Fallen Warriors Monument, which filled me with a great sense of satisfaction, my cell phone rang.
It was my friend Timothy Davis! He rarely calls, so I knew that this was very important.
“Hey Bill, I want you to join us in Vietnam to meet President Trump on Veterans Day,” Davis said. “Please ask Jim Hackett (aka Private Hackett of Valencia) and Steve Hopper (Greenfield, Illinois) and recruit two other local Vietnam Veterans who served in areas other than where you and Hopper served in the Mekong Delta.”
I promptly recruited Navy Seal and USMC Captain Max Morgan and F-4 Phantom Fighter pilot, Dan Petkunas, both Valencia residents.
Altogether, we had five Valencia residents proudly representing our city of Santa Clarita.
Fast forward to Veterans Day, there we were all lined up behind President Trump’s podium at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on China Beach anxiously awaiting his arrival.
When he walked in, there was instant friendliness and it was as though we had all been pals for years.
Without the media present, our conversation was casual, light hearted and meaningful. He possessed the demeanor of a regular American, to which we all could relate.
President Trump indicated that we could speak at the podium if we would like and none of us felt nervous the least bit when our moment arrived.
I got a big kick out of telling him that my wife loved him, and that we all do.
When Max Morgan suggested that we were representing the over 58,000 troops, who perished in Vietnam, you could easily see President Trump’s sincere compassion as he embraced Max and looked him in the eyes. That, my friends, was very special.
It was great seeing General John Kelly and Sarah Huckabee Sanders there observing the procedures and afterwards there was a group photo of us that included them. Sara was reluctant, but, the President, in his jovial manner, urged her to join us.
General Kelly took quite a bit of time speaking with us; such a humble, nice man. It’s clear that he strongly supports Veterans and our military with compassion.
Euphoria at Monkey Mountain
The next day, we visited Monkey Mountain where the Marine Corps served during the Vietnam War. Marine Corps Veteran Jim Hackett provided quite an overview of operations there as that was an area where he partially served during his two tours of combat duty.
Of the numerous tourists there, I showed a young Vietnamese woman the photo of me with President Trump and as she slowly comprehended that it was me with the President, she began jumping up and down gleefully giggling with joy.
She excitedly summoned her friends over to see my photo and they all began rejoicing and having multiple photos taken with me and my buddies. We later learned that the United States enjoys one of its highest public approval ratings worldwide in Vietnam, with 84 percent having confidence in the country according to according to a Pew Research Center poll taken.
Traveling through Seoul, Korea, I was all too happy to show folks, including a number of South Korean soldiers, photos of us Veterans meeting President Trump receiving nothing but positive feedback.
F-4 Pilot Dan Petkunas – Valencia
I asked my buddies to provide a few comments of what this “The Greatest Generations Foundation” Vietnam program meant to them.
“I cannot thank Timothy Davis and The Greatest Generations Foundation enough for including me in this historic event,” said Lt. Colonel (retired) Dan Petkunas, who bombed Hanoi during the war and had hair-raising experiences.
“Not only was meeting President Donald Trump a high honor but now I have a real understanding, beyond Hollywood portrayals, the rigors of jungle and rice paddy warfare and the inevitable psychological effects of losing buddies.”
Proud Veteran Max Morgan – Valencia
“I am the proud Vietnam Veteran who emotionally spoke of representing 58,000+ troops who paid the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam,” said Navy Seal, Marine Corps Captain and LAPD Officer, Max Morgan.
“The media tends to criticize President Trump as pompous and lacks compassion. For us to see up close and personal President Trump’s empathy as he hugged me in a raw display of emotion is something that, next to witnessing my children’s birth, I will never forget,” he said.
For a reason that shall remain secret, Navy Seal Max was nicknamed “Propeller Man”.
Decorated Infantryman Bob Good – Stevenson Ranch
“I felt honored speaking at President Donald Trump’s podium following three of my fellow Vietnam Veterans,” said combat warrior and LAPD officer Bob Good.
“For me it was a surreal moment standing before our President and the world that I will never forget,” he said. “To think that I was speaking before millions of people around the world was almost overwhelming. Observing President Trump sign that Veterans Day proclamation and hand his pen and the proclamation to Timothy Davis was simply outstanding and so deserving.”
Marine Corps Veteran Jim Hackett – Valencia
Marine Corps Veteran and L.A. Deputy Sheriff Jim Hackett (aka Private Hackett) could hardly believe his good fortune was really happening as he travelled with fellow Vietnam Veterans to meet President Trump.
“Wow, as suddenly President Trump sauntered into the room exuding great confidence displaying such immense respect for us that it all just seemed so fantastic,” he said. “I felt so proud to be in the presence of a truly great American.”
“When President Trump arrived his presence put a sense of calm over our entire room as he took time to shake each Veteran’s hand along with having brief private discussions,” said Decorated Combat Infantryman Steve Hopper, now nicknamed “Grass Hoppa.”
“As we talked, he exhibited such calm, courage and immense love for our country and to me, he seemed so gifted, humble and genuinely caring,” he said. “I was also impressed that he introduced to us White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Chief of Staff General John F. Kelly who graciously thanked us for our service and for attending this historic event.”
God Bless America!
Upon arrival home at LAX, little did we know that The Greatest Generations Foundation’s aid, Steve Zouzounis, an LAPD officer, arranged a special police escort through customs for a speedy exit. Man that was special.
In the end, it was another glorious adventure with The Greatest Generations Foundation that left us all exhausted and greatly contented that we well represented our city of Santa Clarita, Greenfield, Illinois, and Vietnam Veterans all across America. God Bless America!