It took nearly thirty minutes to read all 704 veterans’ names. These were not the few who died in service, but the many who died over the past year throughout New Hampshire. When Jerome Forte’s name was called, Dennie Forte stood and walked to the front of the hall at Manchester’s Veterans Affairs Medical Center. There, Democratic U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan handed her a rose. The ritual would repeat itself hundreds of times that morning.
Forte’s husband – he went by Jerry – died from a brain tumor last May. Forte still has the audio tapes they sent each other while he was serving in Vietnam. At the time, Forte was a student at the University of New Hampshire.
“It was hard,” she said. Her then-boyfriend was in the Air Force, and her brother was with the Special Forces green beret. “So there I am as a college student, kids are protesting, we’re having classes canceled etc., and I have two people very dear to me in uniform. And that’s what I feel sort of, is going on today, you’re pushed and pulled,” she said “I can see both sides of the issue.”
Forte said soldiers have never called the shots, but she fears they have been treated as if they do, both in the past, and more recently.
This idea surfaced and resurface at the VA on Monday morning.
Jennifer Dohmen’s son just got back from his second tour with the National Guard. “Back when I was younger in my 20’s, patriotism was a thing. It was cool to be a patriot, and I think somewhere along the line that got lost,” Dohmen said. “I think that’s a travesty.”
As she spoke, Dohmen’s husband Brian stood by. There were tears in his eyes.
“I love our vets,” he said. “I actually got to help take care of some of the guys that have passed in the last year.”
Brian Dohmen works in food services at the Manchester VA Medical Center. He spent nine years with the Army National Guard. While he agrees Vietnam veterans didn’t get the care they needed after the war, he says “now that their sons and daughters are actually serving and getting care, I feel a lot of them are coming forward to go ‘Well, I deserve this too,’ and are finally able to get some closure in their lives, and the care that they need.”
Dohmen said working at the VA makes him feel confident that as he ages, and if he gets sick, he too will be well cared for.