wayne

For Vietnam War veteran Wayne Givens, every day is Memorial Day. That’s why he searches for opportunities to gift the beaded mementos he creates. The keychains are free. However, they didn’t come cheap.

“They were paid for years ago in the jungles of Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War by 58,220 military personnel, the best of America’s youth, who lost their lives there,” says the Columbus, Texas, veteran, who served with the 1st Cavalry Division.

Bob from Oregon Began the Outreach

Wayne is quick to point out that making these commemorative keychains was not his idea. They were the brainwave of a disabled Marine identified only as Dave from Oregon. He served in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive of 1968, the coordinated series of vicious North Vietnamese attacks against more than 100 cities and outposts in U.S.-supported South Vietnam. Dave from Oregon also survived the siege of the Marine base at Khe Sanh.

beads

Dave from Oregon began crafting these remembrances for his ‘brothers and sisters’ who were in-country veterans of the Vietnam War. His goal was to honor those who fought and died in Vietnam by underscoring their sacrifices. Dave from Oregon made over 20,000 keychains. They’ve found their way throughout much of the U.S. and to several foreign countries.   

The colors of the keychains were chosen for a reason. Green stands for the jungles of Vietnam. Yellow is for the ‘welcome home’ that Vietnam veterans never saw. Red signifies the blood shed by those who served in the war. Black symbolizes the pain and darkness some Vietnam veterans still carry.

Wayne was inspired to continue Dave from Oregon’s outreach after receiving a keychain at a 1st Cavalry Division reunion in the 1990s. Wayne made 200 to hand out at the Vietnam Veterans Day gathering of four Central Texas chapters on March 29, 2023, in Columbus, Texas. He hands out others one by one.

Everywhere he goes, Wayne watches for Vietnam veterans’ hats. When he spots one, Wayne is quick to step forward, identify himself and present the stranger with the keychain memento. Wayne says the gesture always moves the recipient.

‘Still Part of Who I Am’

Wayne also leaves each person with a small beige card inspired by a piece of paper he has carried in his wallet for over 40 years.

“At the dedication of the Vietnam Memorial on Veterans Day 1982, I was handed a flyer. On it were the words, ‘Still part of who I am.’ That bold statement made a lasting impression on me, confirming some of my deep-rooted emotions,” Wayne explains.

This veteran’s repetitive, self-funded task continues to demonstrate his respect for those who served and sacrificed their lives in the Vietnam War. His wife, Elsie, quilts in another corner of the living room. Close by, Wayne works methodically on his next batch of Vietnam veteran keychains. He is at peace.

“I thank the Lord for guiding me in this direction,” he says, reaching for more beads. For Wayne Givens, every day is Memorial Day.

*  *  *

Here are several other Stories from the Slow Lane that also inspire me.

Elaine Thomas
Follow Me
Latest posts by Elaine Thomas (see all)