One of the most invaluable things about volunteering is gaining a broader perspective about the world from the people you serve. By volunteering and helping people, our members gain insight from from senior citizens to gang ‘interrupters‘ to veterans. Many of our volunteers, such as Detroit’s Zaire Anderson, a senior from Cass Technical High School , develop deep, meaningful relationships with the people they spend time with. In honor of Memorial Day, we asked Anderson to interview two men she knows well: James Bell and James D. Wickerson, veterans at the Detroit Veteran’s Center. Anderson leads a group of buildOn students who volunteer at the Veteran’s Center each week, and she has already talked to the President of the Vet Center about the possibility of working there while in college.
Anderson: What does service mean to you?
Wickerson: Making myself available to serve my country… To be a help to my country in the best way I know how.
Bell: I answered the call of service to my country and I did what was asked of me to do, and even more. I’m proud of my service. After I came home from the Vietnam War I wasn’t proud. Some of that was because of the way people felt about that war. But today, everyone loves and respects what we did and I’m proud.
Anderson: Do you still continue to serve in your community? And if so, how?
Wickerson: I try to serve in my community in South Carolina, where I live now. I try to show a little love where I can as a human being. I help out where I can, such as raking a lawn, fix a roof, or helping someone out. Mostly I show my love.
Bell: I help veterans today. I am an Employment Specialist; I help veterans find jobs. I’ve been pretty successful in doing so. The government has issued a new program to help vets not to only find jobs, but be retrained so that they qualify for high-demand jobs.
Anderson: What do you do for Memorials Day?
Wickerson: I remember those who served in my heart. I hate to see that they passed away but I remember them in my heart. It’s tragic. I try to have a cookout and say a prayer.
Bell: I continually memorialize my unit. This cross that I wear is from a unit that I was with that fought in the Vietnam War and I wear it daily.
Anderson: Tell me about where you served and what was it like.
Wickerson: Right after high school, when I was 18, I joined the army. I didn’t want anybody to give me anything, so I wanted to get out in the world on my own, so I went searching. I became the second fastest man in my battalion. I met a lot of great men: generals, captains, sergeants, majors. I was in South Carolina for training and graduated with honors. I was then shipped to Texas, and then I spent 18 months in Korea.
Bell: I went in the January 1968 when I was 17 and I served in Georgia. I was then sent home to turn 18, then I went to Vietnam. I was serving with the MACV, Military Assistance Command Vietnam. We were advisers. My second and third tour, I spend up North in South Vietnam. I flew in helicopters with rocket pods and guns. I was the Crew Chief. I was involved in the combat war. I am now a disabled vet. That experience changed me. I was only a teenager when I went in but I did three tours, so I was an adult when I came home. Still, I was a warrior. But through the (Veterans Affairs) and other programs that helped me, I was able to become a civilian again and find peace with myself.
Anderson: What lessons did you learn, and how did it shape you to be the person that you are today?
Wickerson: We went in as teenagers and came out as men. I was wet behind my ears and wearing diapers, and then had to become a man who responsibility and independent. I learned that you have to have integrity in this world. And you have to stand for who you are. Keep searching for that inner peace. It was something that went on that the United States didn’t hear about what was going on over there. It changed me and I’m glad that I did serve in the military. I went in a warrior, but I came out a better warrior. It was about survival and self-sustenance. Now many of us are suffering from mental or physical handicaps. Mine are both mental and physical.
Anderson: What has your experience been like with buildOn?
Bell: My experience with buildOn students has been absolutely wonderful. When they first started coming here I was a little down. I didn’t know what direction I was going. I met buildOn students and they sat down and talked to me. They asked me my name, wanted to talk about my service, about my experiences. I hadn’t talked about my war experiences for over 35 years. I talked to them because I felt they were young and would understand. I held a lot back because… I wanted them to know I’m a totally different person than I was then. I’m not a combat person. I have peace today. The buildOn students have helped me nurture and grow that peace. I didn’t know what direction God was going to send me in. buildOn students have been there as I progressed through this program. They were there when I was awarded my disability. They were also there when I was awarded my current employment. That was all a plus. God works in mysterious ways. He shows up and shows out. buildOn students where there not only to witness those things, but to share them with me. I remember when I first came here, I was assigned to escort them back to Cass Tech in the winter. I would recommend the program for any student at Cass. It will certainly broaden their horizons, and give them experiences that they would never have (otherwise).
Anderson: Share advice on how we can give back to our community.
Wickerson: Love! Love your neighbor. Love will handle it all. The power of God is love. Give all the love you can to your community.
Bell: Community Service. What buildOn students are doing, do after school and when you graduate. The community is made up of the people that live in it. Service should be national. It also shouldn’t be something you’re made to do, but something that you want to do.
Zaire Anderson is an exemplary buildOn member who was recently honored at an Honors Banquet for her high academic achievement. After high school, she plans on attending Wayne State University with hopes of becoming a nurse.