PLYMOUTH -- They have the banner. But the Marshall County Chapter 42 of Disabled American Veterans doesn't have a place of its own to hang it.
The 174-member group meets at the Plymouth VFW hall. Donavon Holderread, chapter commander, said it's a group that has had its ups and downs.
"We never had a flag of our own before," he said. "We wanted our colors to be shown."
Holderread said members will carry their banner proudly in parades, at honor guards for funerals and at Memorial Day and Veterans Day events.
"Ours is one of 36 active DAV chapters in Indiana," Holderread said, "but it nearly died out when our commander, Ira Burroughs of Burr Oak, died."
Clyde Alderfer, of Tippecanoe, D.L. LaFountain, of Walkerton, a Gulf War veteran, and Keith Hammonds, of Plymouth, "got us stirred up again," he said.
The DAV members help set out flags for some 2,000 service men and women in cemeteries in Polk, Center and West townships in Marshall County on Memorial Day.
"We have annual summer picnics and a family carry-in dinner for members," he said.
"We sell forget-me-nots to raise money for charities and we donate to Hospice and Shop-With-A-Cop's Christmas projects."
The veterans also have provided electric chair-lifts on the stairs going up and down for fellow members no longer able to negotiate the steps at the VFW Hall.
Holderread was elected commander in 2004. Born in Plymouth, he attended Tyner High School and graduated in 1967 from John Glenn.
A farm boy, he baled hay until, "tired of sweating for 50 cents an hour," he got a job at Ernie's Thrifty Mart -- later called Dave & Ray's Grocery -- before going to Bremen to work at the United Foam factory.
Drafted in 1968, he was shipped to Vietnam on Feb. 5, 1969.
"I was in a field unit as a rifleman with the 1st Cavalry Airmobiles," he said. "I rode helicopters into the jungles where, when we reached a clearing, we would slide down a rope or land long enough to disembark."
Asked if he had seen a lot of action, he grew somber and said, "Enough. I saw enough."
He was first injured on March 7, 1969.
"I ran into a primitive, booby trap. A wooden spike, tipped with human feces, rammed into my thigh."
Infection set in and he had surgery in a first aid station. The building was made of ammo crates, filled with sand and covered with sand bags.
Within a week, Holderread was back in the field.
"They didn't do any paperwork on me," he said, "so I wasn't put in for a Purple Heart."
An expert marksman with any gun he took up, he said he was a "tunnel rat."
A little guy -- 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighing 107 pounds -- he got to burrow through the enemy's tunnels. Near the Cambodian border in Tay Ninh Province, he helped liberate an underground bicycle factory as well as ammunition stockpiles and a hospital complex.
He personally liberated a few bicycles for his buddies.
"Even in the worst of conditions, we had some good times. We'd roll up dirty socks to make a football for a pick-up game. We played cards and we sat around and talked about home.
"I made so many good friends," he said. "Guys I will never forget."
Holderread suffered a second injury when shrapnel tore through his right wrist and a third when his shoulder was broken by a falling tree.
He lost a good deal of his hearing, developing tinnitus from exposure to gunfire and explosions.
He received many commendations, including the South Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry twice and presidential unit citation ribbons, but he never even got one Purple Heart.
"I didn't get a Good Conduct medal either," he said, "and I would've like to have had that."
He came back to the States a sergeant and was honorably discharged in August 1970.
He bounced around a couple of years, working at various factories. He earned an associate degree in business from Ancilla College and, in 1976, was hired as a jail officer for the Marshall County Sheriff's Department.
In 1984, he became a city postal carrier for the U.S. Post Office, retiring after 19 years in 2003.
On 100 percent disability, Holderread said, at first, the care at VA hospitals was "terrible."
"But now," he added, "over the course of time, it is so much more improved, it is not even explainable!
"I couldn't go to Mayo Clinic and get any better care," he said.
"They take good care of us."
And well they should.
This was Donavon Holderread as a 21-year-old 1st Calvary Airmobile rifleman in Vietnam in 1969. Photo provided
Donavon Holderread, commander of the Marshall County chapter of the Disabled American Veterans, is proud to have a banner for his group. Tribune Photo/IDA CHIPMAN
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