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September 08, 1988 - Image 65

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The Michigan Daily, 1988-09-08

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The Michigan Daily - Thursday, September 8, 1988-- Page 9

PROFILE

BY RYAN TUTAK
Charles Tackett had another rough night. He spent
the day looking for a job and was ready for a good
night's sleep. But he has no home, and the Ann Arbor
Homeless Shelter turned him away because he arrived
past the 8:30 p.m. curfew. Like many other nights,
Tackett ended up trying to get some rest on a park
bench along the Huron River.
"People walk by and look at me," he said. "They
want to know what's going on. Some wake me up and
ask me how I feel. I say, 'I'm fine."'
THAT'S NOT entirely true. Tackett has been
without work and a place to stay for most of the six
years he has lived in Ann Arbor. He has bone marrow
cancer, which he attributes to exposure to Agent Or-
ange during the Vietnam War.
But Tackett seems to weather the tough times well,
mostly by keeping active in town and on campus. Dur-
ing the day, you might see him drinking a cup of coffee
in the Union or relaxing on the Diag if the weather is
nice. Wearing a camouflage jacket, a Vietnam veteran
belt buckle, a Michigan baseball cap, and headphones,
Tackett is hard to miss.
Most students know Tackett from his efforts to es-
tablish a national memorial holiday for Vietnam veter-
ans. The 39-year-old Kentucky native served in the
United States Army's 82nd Airborne division in Viet-
nam for two years beginning with the Tet offensive in
1968.
Tackett wants the memorial holiday to remind Am-
ericans that veterans of unofficially declared wars such
as Vietnam do not receive benefits or health care. The
holiday is necessary, Tackett said, because wars fought
under the auspices of "police actions and conflicts"
have become common tactics for the U.S. in Third
World countries such as Nicaragua and Honduras.
"IT'S A SAD scene to fight for your country and
come back to nothing," Tackett said, adding that
payments for his cancer treatment come, in part, from
social security. "The holiday is vitally important to me.
The future for our veterans is very bleak."'
Despite the consequences, Tackett said he doesn't
regret fighting in Vietnam.
"It gave me a chance to fight for my country," he
said. "I wanted to serve my country and fight commu-
nism. What the heck do you know when you're 17?"
But second thoughts entered his mind as early as the
plane ride overseas: "I was worried and scared. But,
like the sergeant said, 'It's too late to call mother
now."'
FOND MEMORIES of the war are few, Tackett
said, but have stayed with him. "There was a certain
amount of brotherhood," he said. "We figured we were
trapped in a situation where we couldn't get out so we
made the best of it. But no matter how bad a vet will
speak of it or try to put it in the past, he can't."
Tackett said he tries to keep the bad memories of
Vietnam separate from the rest of his life, but one inci-
dent sticks in his mind - a fire-fight involving 700
soldiers on a plot of land no bigger than the grass area
around the Diag.
"We had heavy artillery, napalm all over the place.
Both sides stood up after the battle was over, and we
looked at each other in complete silence. ILguess we
were looking at what was done. That was strange... to

DAVID LUBLINER/Daily
Still Fighting
Vietnam veteran Charles Tackett struggles
for a home and job - and a national
holiday to honor his comrades.

Mass.) and Rep. Carl Pursell (R-Mich.).
He has spent the last year at the Michigan Student
Assembly gathering local support for the holiday from
MSA, the Eastern Michigan University student gov-
ernment, and the Ann Arbor, Detroit, and Ypsilanti city
councils. These groups backed Tackett's successful ef-
forts for a local holiday on campus May 7 - the same
day the last American troops arrived home from
Vietnam.
"People of MSA have been forced to realize that
stereotypes of the Vietnam veteran, and people of dif-
ferent backgrounds and education are pretentious and
counter-productive," said MSA representative Corey
Dolgan, a University graduate student. "MSA rep-
resentatives realized that they could learn something
from these groups, whose contributions are significant
and ultimately vital to any progressive movement."
However, not all veterans admire Tackett. Norm
Fulson, assistant state services officer for the Michigan
office of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said the VFW
does not endorse Tackett's project.
"CHARLES TACKETT is not sanctioned by our
organization to do what he is doing," Fulson said. "It's
strictly his idea. You don't need a one-man crusade."
Fulson added that the VFW can organize the
holiday officially and more efficiently. "We can go
through the proper legal channels to have it declared,"
he said.
But Tackett thinks the VFW's approach is too bu-
reaucratic. "If I went through the veterans' organiza-
tions, the policies and guidelines would block out
many other people who have worked on the project."
"It would be just another veterans' move and would
not be a healing process of bringing together in a civil
manner the hatred and bigotry of one American to an-'
other for their various stands on Vietnam."
SO TACKETT remains in Ann Arbor, working
somewhat independently for his dream."It's hard for
the poor to live on a rich man's soil," he said. "But I
knew that if there was a place to start the holiday pro-
ject, it would be here. Ann Arbor has been known to
accept new ideas and dreams, even though it has its
problems."
Public exposure from working on the Vietnam vet-
erans' holiday, however, has not improved Tackett's
chances of finding work or a place to live. In fact, he
can't devote himself full-time to the holiday because
he spends much of the first part of his day deciding
how he will live the second.
"IT'S NOT EASY being homeless," he said. "But
you get used to anything after a while. You just got to
be a survivor. Life keeps me going. A lot of it is a
blessing in itself."
Tackett helped establish the homeless shelter at the
abandoned St. Andrew's church. "It ain't easy to come
to a city and find yourself homeless," he said. "What
grabs me is that the world knows these issues are going
on and they don't care. They feel they don't need to be
bothered."
Nevertheless, Tackett said he is happy with life in
Ann Arbor.
"I probably will live in Ann Arbor the rest of my
life," he said. "That is, if I can can ever get to the point
when I can afford it. I sort of have adopted the town."

sit up and look at your enemy as if to say, 'What in the
hell have we done?"'
And he doesn't appreciate attempts by commercial
filmmakers to capture such events, regardless of the
accuracy. "When you serve over there, it makes it dif-
ferent," he said. "A documentary (about the war), yes.
But Hollywood making money off of death, no!"
LAST WINTER TERM, two University students
convinced Tackett to attend a class examining the
war's impact on art called "Ashes and Embers." There
he watched his first documentary on Vietnam, The War
at Home, which portrayed the conflicting and often
hostile views of Americans about the Vietnam War.
The film apparently had an emotional effect on
Tackett, though he is reluctant to talk about it. "It was a
really moving experience," LSA senior Anne Hooghart
recalls. "The movie obviously touched him quite a bit."
Tackett's war days were cut short when he was in-
jured by a hand-grenade in 1969. He spent the next
five years in a wheelchair with his family in Pikerville,
Kentucky, where he married. He and his wife headed
for Dayton in 1974 but soon bunked up with a friend in
Ann Arbor when social security checks were no longer
enough to support them.

Life took a turn for the better in late 1975 when
Tackett's health improved, and he began to manage a
prospering apartment complex in Detroit. But in 1979
he suffered a sudden nervous breakdown. His wife left
him soon after.
TACKETT DECIDED to devote his life to the
Vietnam veterans' holiday about five years ago, when
he noticed an increase in the incidence of undeclared
world wars. He began his mission with a peace march
in November, 1983, when he walked from Detroit to
Washington, D.C.
Tackett recalled'the march as unpopular - he was
"beat up in Charleston," doused with lighted cigarettes
and urine in Toledo, and only recognized for his efforts
in a small Fairfax, Va. newspaper.
"As the miles added up, it turned into a battle for the
American way of life, constitution, and the ever-ad-
vancing cruelty we place on one another," he said.
He completed a similar march to petition support for
the holiday in 1985, but weak legs have forced him to
give up such long walks.
TACKETT CLAIMS to have amassed more than
1,000,000 signatures in support of the holiday, includ-
ing national legislators Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-

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