At the Veterans Breakfast Club,

Stories Unite Us.

Check out our online & in-person veterans storytelling programs and see our full event schedule below. All are welcome to join us!

Civilian Volunteers in Vietnam on VBC Happy Hour

Date: July 3, 2023
Time: 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Location: Zoom, Facebook, YouTube
All Events | Online Events | VBC Happy Hour

Join us as we talk with a select few Americans who in the 1960s heeded the call to serve by volunteering for Vietnam as civilian humanitarian aid workers.

In the 1960s, 416 young people traveled to Vietnam as volunteers with the IVS–International Voluntary Services. IVSrs, as they called themselves, worked in small teams and lived with the people in rural villages throughout South Vietnam. IVS volunteers brought US technical know-how to agriculture and infrastructure, building bridges, digging canals, helping with plant cultivation and animal husbandry. They taught school, delivered healthcare, and consulted with non-Vietnamese “Montangards” in remote mountain villages.

The US military saw the IVS as part of the larger effort to “win hearts and minds,” building goodwill among peasants who might otherwise be recruited to the Viet Cong’s struggle against the US-backed government of South Vietnam.

This official US support made the IVS a target. As the war escalated, the dangers faced by these youthful idealists did also. By the late 1960s, a large number of IVS volunteers in Vietnam began to see the US war effort as harmful to ordinary South Vietnamese villagers.

Joining us are two former IVSrs Richard Berliner and JanStephen Cavanaugh, who served in Vietnam during the war. JanStephen has recently published his memoir,  A Bloodied Tapestry.

We also welcome Jill Hunting, whose brother, IVS volunteer Peter M. Hunting, died in an ambush in the Mekong Delta in 1965. Pete was the first US civilian killed in the war. Jill tells Pete’s story and that of her own grieving family in the moving saga, Finding Pete: Rediscovering the Brother I Lost in Vietnam. 

The IVS was a private nonprofit with strong ties to the Christian Pacifist tradition of the Quakers, Mennonites, and Church of the Brethren. It flourished in the wake of World War II and the wild success of the Marshall Plan. President John F. Kennedy’s stirring call to service bolstered interest in the IVS’s mission to improve the lot of those suffering from poverty and war around the world.

The Vietnam War inspired the IVS to expand its operations to Southeast Asia. The humanitarian crisis unfolding there drew an intrepid few who sought to provide relief, support, and development assistance amidst the devastation of war.

We’ll talk with Richard, JanStephen, and Jill about their experiences during the Vietnam War and the impact those experiences had on the rest of their lives.

Safe to say, the war challenged the beliefs of those who served in the IVS and forced all to confront the grim reality of war’s destruction.

JanStephen, for one, still believes we can make the choice to let go of the injustice and ego that create war. He is still hopeful that together we can make the collective choice to turn our backs on war so we may progress and find greater meaning and compassion in our existence. This pursuit is what motivates Cavanaugh and inspired him to revisit this hell, so that we may finally experience the harmony that comes from humanity living in an age of peace.


101-Year-Old P-47 Thunderbolt Pilot Col. Edwin Cottrell on VBC Happy Hour

Date: July 10, 2023
Time: 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Location: Zoom, Facebook, YouTube
All Events | Online Events | VBC Happy Hour

101-year-old Ed Cottrell flew 65 missions in Europe in a P-47 Thunderbolt with 48th Fighter Group, 493rd Fighter Squadron in 1944-1945. He joins VBC Happy Hour to talk about his experiences in World War II and in the decades after when he served in the Air Force Reserves, retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel.

How he survived the war against Germany is still a mystery. One mission, during the Battle of the Bulge, on December 17, 1944, especially puzzles him.

Ed was a student at Slippery Rock University in Western Pennsylvania when he first got his pilot’s license. During his Junior year in 1943, the Air Corps called him to active duty.  Before shipping overseas, he married his college sweetheart, Millie.

Based in France and Belgium, Ed did all kinds of flying, including a skip bombing mission in Germany, where 12 P-47s flew treetop level at 300 mph to bomb entrenched Germans who were preventing an American advance. It was a success, though about every plane returned with bullet-riddled bellies.

On December 17, his mission was to take out Tiger tanks east of Cologne headed to Bastogne. The Germans had just launched a devastating surprise attack on Allied lines the day before. The Battle of the Bulge, as it became known, was the largest US forces would face in Europe.

Taking out tanks on the move required dive-bombing, flying in low, dropping ordnance, and pulling up fast.

Just as Ed pulled his P-47 up from the dive, a pack of enemy ME-109 planes appeared.

“Bandit at One O’Clock!” Ed called to his squadron commander.

The bandit–a 109–turned toward Ed’s plane and fired its 20mm cannon. The blast struck Ed’s engine. Oil splattered over his windshield.

Ed flung open the canopy and radioed that he was going to head as far toward home as he could, chugging along at 120 mph.

Then, he looked left. Another German 109 was bearing down. On the right, still another. Ed and his plane were as good as gone.

The two German fighter pilots crisscrossed behind E’d P-47. Expecting to be shot, Ed was surprised with the enemy planes flew right up next to him and escorted him back to Allied lines.

The Germans “used their thumbs and first fingers to make a little circle and peeled off. That was the signal they were leaving me,” Ed explains. “‘Good luck and God bless’” was the message.

Disoriented and concerned about engine failure, Ed called on the radio for a nearby landing field. Just as he touched down, the engine seized.  He made a dead-stick landing and rolled to a stop.

He climbed out of the cockpit and kissed the ground. A lot of other pilots and crew members weren’t so lucky that day. One of Ed’s roommates, 2nd Lt. Art Sommers, was one of the casualties. He never returned from the mission.

Join our conversation with Ed as he shares this story and many others from his long and heroic life.

Vietnam War F-4 Pilot and Weapons Officer Dan Petkunas on VBC Happy Hour

Date: July 17, 2023
Time: 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Location: Zoom, Facebook, YouTube
All Events | Online Events | VBC Happy Hour

Join us as we talk with those who flew the F-4 Phantom II during the Vietnam War. The F-4 Phantom was the iconic fighter of the Vietnam War. It was a two-seat, twin-engine, all-weather, supersonic built for the Navy, adopted by the Marine Corps, and modified for the Air Force. The F-4 came online in the late 1950s first as a Navy interceptor designed to protect carrier groups. The second seat allowed for a full-time Weapons Officer to handle the complex radar system. Despite achieving Mach 2.2, the F-4 could carry three times the payload of the WWII B-17, including both missiles and bombs.

We’ll talk with F-4 pilot and Weapons Officer Dan Petkunas about his 222 combat missions in Vietnam, culminating in the Christmas Bombings of 1972. And we’ll also have fellow pilot and back-seater Larry Googins on to share his stories of service.

If fighter pilots and crew members have nine lives, Dan Petkunas expended at least seven of them during his combat tour.

In 1972, Dan was assigned to the 13th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Udorn Royal Thai Air Base in Thailand and began flying bombing runs and missions to protect other aircraft, including B-52 bombers, A-7s, F-105s, and additional F-4s. As a Weapons System Officer, Petkunas controlled the F-4’s back seat, working in tandem with the pilot.

Close calls were common, especially when flying low among the ridges to avoid enemy radar and missiles. On July 30, 1972, during an escort mission over Hanoi, his plane ran out of fuel over the Gulf of Tonkin on the return, forcing him to eject into the darkness. Remarkably, he and his pilot were rescued by a U.S. Marine helicopter just 30 minutes late.

Dan came back from his tour of duty with the Distinguished Flying Cross, other medals and devices, and, most important, a bride, Tem Nuankathok. This year they will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. Join us to congratulate Dan and hear about the air war in Vietnam during its final year.

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