Local vet Dan Solis speaks from heart; Healdsburg Community Band performs

Annual Veterans Day ceremonies always include lots of the traditional messages, military rituals, patriotic symbols and familiar faces of past year’s gatherings. There’s the somber presentation of the colors, uncovering for a chaplain’s prayer, an update of the local honor roll and an introduction of special guests.

Occasionally, there can be a surprising twist to the evening’s script. Such was the case at Cloverdale’s 2017 Veterans Day ceremony, hosted by local VFW Post 3150, Sons of the American Legion Squadron 293 and local American Legion Post 9862.

Keynote speaker, local Vietnam veteran Dan Solis, captivated the crowd of almost 100 people with words from deep in his heart and not read from a piece of paper.

He told a story of being a young 22-year-old draftee who did not want to go to war, but enlisted in Army medic school anyway.

“I was terrified,” he said, in slow, halting groups of thoughts. “We all were. From the moment I got there (Vietnam) until when I left, I wore my dog tags every day and my rosary. I prayed a lot.”

Solis is a familiar figure around Cloverdale as he often visits schools on behalf of his American Legion post to talk about the flag and patriotism. Some of what he said this Veterans Day had never been said in public before.

After being honorably discharged in 1971, Solis said he had a very rough emotional time that included thoughts of suicide.

“I was seriously depressed and couldn’t sleep. I had horrible nightmares about what I saw in ‘Nam. I cried a lot.”

But Solis gave praise to his fellow veterans. “That kinship and love all around me saved my life.” He called his American Legion volunteer work his “therapy.”

During the war he was stationed at a medical outpost where enemy mortars launched overhead many nights. He learned that being a medic was “like having a target on my back.” The VC (Viet Cong) wanted to kill officers, radio men and medics, he learned too late to make a difference.”

Solis saw lots of the war’s worst moments, including many young men with missing limbs, fresh wounds and equal parts of blood and mud.

“Out there, we had to improvise lots of things,” he told his audience. “I never got a hot shower and we almost never had electricity. There was lots of scary moments. I know I ate some unpleasant things (that got mixed) in my meals.”

He faced night raids, a booby-trapped VC corpse and a large jungle snake that crawled across him with the enemy just a ditch away.

Solis declined an offer to re-enlist. “I said, no I’m out of here. I want to go home.”

Once he got home, he said, was when he faced his toughest battle. “The most difficult battle is fighting the war within your own brain. It can get the best of you.”

Introduced by local American Legion Commander Sandy Kelly, she asked Solis what other lessons he learned that he might pass on to others. “It’s the fellowship,” he answered. “When these soldiers come home, go talk to them. Don’t let them be alone. If they want to talk, just listen.”

On this most recent Veterans Day in Cloverdale there was lots of listening.

Before and after Solis’ talk, the Healdsburg Community Band played patriotic and military songs and Commander Kelly offered welcoming remarks and other announcements.

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