Dr. Robert Tortolani, who served as an Army doctor in 1968 and 1969 in Vietnam, speaks at the Memorial Day service on the Common in Brattleboro in 2014.
Randolph T. Holhut/Commons file photo
Dr. Robert Tortolani, who served as an Army doctor in 1968 and 1969 in Vietnam, speaks at the Memorial Day service on the Common in Brattleboro in 2014.

Veterans Town Hall event comes to Brattleboro

Event seeks to foster understanding between veterans and civilians

BRATTLEBORO — Vets Town Hall, a Vermont-based nonprofit that aims to increase understanding between veterans and civilians, is partnering with local organizations to host five events in Brattleboro and other sites around the state in early November.

According to a news release, veterans of all eras "are invited to speak for up to 10 minutes each about what their service means to them. Non-veterans are encouraged to attend and listen. These events are free and nonpolitical, and all perspectives are valued."

The Brattleboro event will be held on Sunday, Nov. 5, at 1 p.m., at American Legion Post 5 on Linden Street.

"We know that since the end of the draft [in 1973], many people have little idea about what it means to be in the military," Dr. Robert Tortolani told The Commons. "It's basically an effort to educate the community about the military and what it is all about, with veterans sharing their stories."

A longtime physician in Brattleboro, Tortolani served as an Army doctor in 1968 and 1969 in Vietnam, at the height of U.S. involvement in the war. He was a surgeon assigned to an infantry battalion in the 1st Air Cavalry Division, and, as he once described it, "I was doing house calls constantly in helicopters."

Tortolani has been one of the organizers of the weekly Tuesday Coffee Hour at Post 5, when veterans swap stories about their experiences in the military over coffee and doughnuts. In a way, the Nov. 5 event in Brattleboro is an expansion of these gatherings.

Honoring stories

"Having an opportunity to gather with community members assists with the reintegration process and makes it possible for us to move beyond a narrative of conflict by honoring and sharing our stories," Jon Turner, Vets Town Hall board member and emcee at the Colchester location, said in a news release. "Attending these gatherings is a reminder of the community we wish to embrace after military service."

Vets Town Halls were originated by journalist and author Sebastian Junger ( War, Tribe ), who partnered with U.S, Rep. Seth Moulton, who served as a Marine Corps infantry captain in the Iraq War, on the first such event in Marblehead, Massachusetts in 2015.

For several years after, events took place throughout the country but without a centralized way for people to learn more about them. The first one in Vermont took place in November 2017 in Burlington led by local event planner Kristen Eaton. They have since continued annually in Vermont, with a break in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eaton, who is not a veteran herself, said that "there's something profound about listening without judgment or interruption, and that's a very real way to show up for our community members who are veterans. Vets Town Halls offer non-veterans an opportunity to gain a more nuanced understanding of the experiences of those who have served in the military."

Junger, along with Turner and Eaton, formed the nonprofit Vets Town Hall last year with the aim of establishing these events in every state - and eventually in every community - in the United States.

Nationally, Vets Town Hall provides resources and consultations on best practices to those interested in starting events. In Vermont, the nonprofit is more hands-on, directly facilitating some events, and helping with publicity and outreach for all in-state Vets Town Halls.

This year's Vets Town Halls are supported in part by Vermont Humanities. With events scheduled in Bradford, Colchester, Rutland, and South Royalton, as well as Brattleboro, organizers say it is the most expansive program they've held in Vermont.

"Support of our military does not start with a 'support the troops' bumper sticker and culminate with grilled chicken on Memorial Day weekend," said Rutland Vets Town Hall emcee Kyle Aines in a news release. "As military members struggle to reintegrate back into society, it is imperative that society have a clear understanding of what they are transitioning from. The Vets Town Hall is that bridge and connection."

For more information, visit vtvetstownhall.org or email [email protected].

This News item by Randolph T. Holhut was written for The Commons.

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