This is the story about 2 Vietnam veterans. The one I know the most about is me, the other one I’ll tell you about in a bit. As for me, entered the Army at 18, retired as a First Sergeant at 38 in 1982. Turned down Sergeant Major. One year in Vietnam; one year in Laos. I went to work for Raytheon in El Paso, TX. They needed a “commo” guy to teach “PATRIOT unique communications” to Radio Operators assigned to PATRIOT Missile Battalions. I spent 18 years with them. I would have spent more but following surgery for a non-malignant brain tumor, my memory was about shot. So early retirement.
In 1988 a company Manager stuck his head in the door and said, you’re a “Shriner”. We need you to attend a “Clown” meeting at the El Paso El Maida Shrine Center tomorrow night. I did and I became a clown named “Chi Chi”. My daughter gave me that name, but that’s another story. Initially because of work I only clowned on weekends usually in parades or our once a year circus. After I retired I clowned for the crippled and burned children’s Shrine clinics held there in El Paso. My first crippled children’s clinic was fun. My first burned children’s clinic wasn’t. I went out in the hall crying at least 3 times after seeing badly burned children. Something did happen that changed all that for me as I was getting ready to leave. I saw a young boy in a wheel chair with a clear plastic mask on his face protecting tissue that had been burned and was healing. I knelt down in front of him, looking at each other eye to eye. His look was enough to say, “Ok Clown, now what?” I made him a balloon dog and when I reached out to give it to him, he reached out to take it and under that mask he managed a smile. That was a “WOW” for me. I never had another problem working a burn clinic. Several years and two moves in the past, I now live in Huntsville, Alabama. Shortly after moving here I met the other Vietnam Vet I was going to tell you about. His name is George Pipes. He was an Infantryman in Vietnam. After which he decided not to make the Army a career. He is also a Clown named “Patches”. We are both members of the American Legion Post #0237 and we are both clowns with the Huntsville Cahaba Shrine “Buffoon” unit. While somewhat seasonal, we are a busy unit clowning for Shrine events, local parades, and some very special events. After being seen in a Huntsville Veteran’s Parade I was called by a member of AUSA asking if we could help his organization by Clowning for an upcoming event at Redstone Arsenal. It was for surviving families of soldiers lost in the desert wars. We were there and we made children of all ages smile. It made us feel good. We’ve done this for 2 years. We were also requested to clown for a Reserve Unit that was being deployed. That was a tough one. We will continue to support our veterans and their families by participating whenever and wherever we can. Thank you American Legion for being here, everywhere else, and everything you do. One additional note if I may, Patches the clown is also the President of the International Shrine Clown Association. Our mission is what we call the “Sneaker Fund” which is used for Burn Care Research by our Shrine Hospitals. And, speaking of that I read an article that said Shriner’s hospitals will be helping crippled veterans. That’s another “WOW” for me.
Jim Szeredy a.k.a. Chi Chi the Clown!!!