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Town Hall gives voice to veterans

Third annual event to be held Saturday, Nov. 11

By Mike Wood

Staff writer

(Wednesday, Nov. 8, 1:20 p.m.) For something that started here just two years ago, the Vets Town Hall has quickly become a Veterans Day mainstay within Rossmoor.

The third annual event will be held in the welcoming confines of Dollar Picnic Grounds on Saturday, Nov, 11, from 2 to 4 p.m., to mark Veterans Day and to recognize in a unique way those who served.

These Vets Town Halls arc distinct in two ways: Veterans who wish to speak each may do so for up to 10 minutes. Importantly, the audience is there to listen; questions or comments are not taken from audience members unless a veteran specifically asks for them. This is unlike a town hall format often seen on TV in which politicians field questions from audience members.

This conecpl was originated by award-winning journalist, author and filmmaker Sebastian Junger after his experiences as a war reporter in Afghanistan, The first such town hall was in 2015 in Massachusetts, a collaboration between Junger and Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton, who served in the Iraq War as a Marine Corps officer. As of Nov. I. the Vets Town Hall website listed 17 Vets Town Halls nationwide this month, including Rossmoor’s.

Resident Cinda Rapp said she was seeking a novel w r ay to honor veterans, beyond the tradition of veterans in parades. “That didn’t resonate with me.”

Rapp’s brother and sister-in- law both served in the Gulf War. Her sister-in-law gave Rapp a copy of Junger’s book “Tribe.” That led to her discovery of the Vets Town Hall concept.

“That really resonated with me as a great way to honor Veterans Day,” Rapp said. She reached out to her good friends, fellow residents Jennifer and Dennis Johnsen, The three are once again working together in organizing this year’s event, with Dennis serving as emcee.

Veterans of any generation, from any branch of the U.S. military, are welcome to take part. There will be a sign-up table upon entrance to the picnic area for veterans who wish to speak and share. They can also register beforehand at for this event.

“What we do is take their names at the beginning and give those names to Dennis, who is the emcee,” Rapp explained. Veterans can attend and not speak.

Rapp is keen on having a safe, apolitical, non-judgmental environment. “That is what I hope we can keep fostering is that safely,” she said.

Anyone interested is welcome to come and listen, with goodwill and gratitude and without judgment, to the spirit of the Vets Town Hall. Junger’s words adorn a flyer for this event and the homepage: “It takes courage to stand up and speak. It also takes courage to sit down and listen.”

Rapp said she was intrigued by Junger’s wisdom and philosophy, quoting the following passage from the Vets Town Hall website: “For most of human history, trauma was both experienced and processed in groups: family, village, tribe. As a result, humans are amazingly resilient when they are part of community, and amazingly fragile when they are not.”

Rapp said, “That really gets to the heart of this way of honoring veterans, trying to expand community.”

She has come to know several veterans within the community, including resident Bob Pace, who served in Vietnam. “I feel like Vietnam is my life now because of him. I feel profoundly affected by him,” she said.

“It’s a great thing because a lot of veterans don’t talk about their service for whatever reason,” said Pace, who was wounded three times during his servicc in the Vietnam War. ‘For this opportunity, especially here in Rossmoor, to get them to talk, it’s good therapy.”

Pace said older veterans have a lot to offer in advising younger generations who have served. For him, getting counseling decades after his service changed his life.

“I have talked to a lot of younger veterans, who come in from all these places all over the world,” he said. “They’ll say, ‘I don’t need that,’ and I will say ‘Yes, you do.’” Upon finishing his education, Dennis Johnsen was drafted. He spent 1968 to 1972 stationed in Bangkok, Thailand, at a medical research laboratory. His wife, Jennifer, and their three young children were with him in Bangkok.

He did not set foot in Vietnam but still saw evidence of war. He recalls traveling on the highways and seeing bombs being taken to staging areas near the Ho Chi Minh trail. This was the beginning of his 30-year journey with the U.S. Army, Public Health Service and National Institutes of Health.

“I did a lot of things I never would have done if I hadn’t been drafted,” he said. “I decided to stay in the service because I found that it was a great place to be. One thing led to another. You went all over the world and went to all kinds of places. Before I knew it, I had 30 years of service in.”

Though he never saw combat, he has a profound admiration for those who did, a sentiment that’s evident in his association with these town halls and as emcee.

“I always stand in admiration of those people who were on active duty in places like Vietnam and Iraq; people who had gotten injured or died,” said Johnsen, whose nephew was seriously wounded when serving in Afghanistan.

He finds there are always interesting stories told at these gatherings.

“I think it’s great to honor them,” Johnsen said. “I think every one of those stories were interesting; sonic were entertaining, and others were just plain interesting, of people doing things you would never expect them to do.”

Jennifer Johnsen said she was surprised when listening at these town halls “that the people who have some pretty horrendous experiences, did talk about it. And what I always heard is people don’t want to talk about it. That was an eye-opener. … I did not expect to hear some of the things I heard, and I fell that was good.

“People were pretty brave to stand up there and tell the world about that. That’s just hard; that is like being there again,” she said.

If it’s raining, the event will move to the Fairway Room at Creekside. But hopefully, the picnic grounds will again provide a comforting, peaceful setting.

“I was really affected by the great big old oak tree, and there was a feeling of brothership and protection under that great big old oak tree,” Jennifer Johnsen said.

Rapp noticed that same vibe in the outdoor setting.

“That tree has lived through many wars. … The tree has stood fast. It felt like a protective umbrella,” Rapp said.